EXTENSION OF REMARKS
THE HONORABLE JOHN D. DINGELL
THE IMPORTED FOOD SAFETY ACT OF 1998
June 18, 1998
Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing the Imported Food Safety Act of 1998 which will give the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) new authority and much needed resources to protect American consumers from unsafe imported
food. I am very pleased to have 15 of my Democratic colleagues on the Commerce Committee joining me as original
cosponsors in introducing this important legislation. It is my sincere hope that many more Members, including my
Republican colleagues, will soon join us in responding to consumer concerns over the safety of the food we eat.
U.S. food safety standards are among the highest in the world. In spite of this fact, millions of Americans
each year are unknowing victims of illness attributable to food-borne bacteria, viruses, parasites, and
pesticides. According to a recent General Accounting Office (GAO) report as many as 33 million Americans
each year become ill from the foods they eat. We also know that many cases of food-borne illness are not
reported. GAO, therefore, estimates the total number of food-borne illnesses to exceed 81 million each
year. Among these cases, more than 9,100 result in death. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic
Research Service estimates "the costs for medical treatment and productivity losses associated with these
illnesses and deaths range from $6.6 billion to $37.1 billion."
Increased media attention on food-borne illness outbreaks has turned, once unfamiliar scientific names, into household
words. Recently, an outbreak of food poisoning from salmonella in cereal was reported in 11 states. E. coli 0157 has
been found in apple juice and hamburger, Cyclospora in raspberries, Listeria in ice cream, Cryptosporidium in water,
and viral Hepatitis A in frozen strawberries served in the school lunch program.
The population of our country is growing and changing. Exposure to food-borne pathogens is particularly dangerous for
the most vulnerable members of the public, such as children, pregnant women, the elderly, HIV/AIDS, cancer and other
persons whose immune systems are compromised.
The number of food-borne illness outbreaks has increased in recent years, and so has the volume of foreign food
imports coming into our country. In its recent report, GAO said that the Federal Government cannot ensure that
imported foods are safe. The FDA itself has acknowledged that it is "in danger of being overwhelmed by the volume of
products reaching U.S. ports."
The volume of imported food has doubled over the last five years, while the frequency of FDA inspections has declined
sharply during this same period of time. More than 38 percent of the fresh fruit and more than 12 percent of the fresh
vegetables that Americans now consume each year are imported.
Most Americans would be alarmed to learn that just a small fraction, less than two per cent, of the 2.7 million food entries
coming into this country are ever inspected or tested by the FDA. Even fewer, only 0.2 percent of food entries, are
tested for microbiological contamination.
In a recent letter, however, FDA said that it "has NO assignments for monitoring imported fresh fruits and vegetable for
presence of pathogenic microorganisms." [emphasis added]. In fiscal year 1997, ALL of the 251 microbiological samples
FDA collected that year, were in response to food-borne illness outbreaks. NONE were for preventive detection.
The outrageous and wholly intolerable conclusion one must draw is that American consumers are being used as guinea
FDA has stated that there is a "critical need for rapid, accurate methods to detect, identify and quantify pathogens...."
The testing methods currently being used at FDA can take up to two weeks to isolate and identify pathogens in food
samples. What is needed are quicker detection methods, or "real time tests" that yield results in approximately 60
minutes, to identify pathogenic contamination, especially at busy ports of entry. But currently, FDA is not funding
research to develop these tests, nor do they have plans to develop these tests in the future.
It is clear that FDA is lacking the necessary resources to regulate the global food marketplace. Unlike the U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA), FDA does not have the authority to deny product entry at the border or to permit
imports only from agency approved suppliers in foreign countries. The GAO reported that FDA's procedures for
ensuring that unsafe imported foods do not reach consumers are vulnerable to abuse by unscrupulous importers.
According to GAO, some importers ignore FDA's orders to return, to destroy or to re-export their shipments. By the time
FDA decides to inspect shipments, in some cases, the importers have already marketed the goods.
In response to this crisis, the President has said FDA needs increased resources, more authority, and improved
research and technology. The Imported Food Safety Act of 1998 addresses each of these points.
This legislation provides additional resources in the form of a modest user fee on imported foods to increase the
number of FDA inspectors at ports of entry in the U.S. Proceeds from the user fee would also be used for a "Manhattan
Project" to develop "real time" tests (results within 60 minutes) to detect E. coli, salmonella, and other microbial and
pesticide contaminants in imported food. Without tests that produce quick results, there is no way FDA inspectors can
detect pathogens in imported food before it is distributed to consumers. Finally, the legislation gives FDA authority,
comparable to that of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with respect to imported poultry and meat, to stop
unsafe food at the border and to assure that its ultimate disposition is not America's dinner table.
The Imported Food Safety Act of 1998 focuses on these three key areas: authority; research; and resources.
Increased Regulatory Authority for FDA
The recent GAO study of the imported food safety program points out that: "In some cases, when the Food and Drug
Administration decides to inspect shipments, the importers have already marketed the goods." "[W]hen the [FDA] finds
contamination and calls for importers to return shipments to the Customs Service for destruction or reexport, importers
ignore this requirement or substitute other goods for the original shipment. Such cases of noncompliance seldom result
in a significant penalty."
FDA currently lacks the authority to impose criminal penalties on importers that circumvent FDA's import procedures.
FDA reliance on the importer's bond agreement with Customs, has left the agency without an adequate economic
deterrent to the distribution of adulterated products . Current penalties, namely the forfeiture of a bond, are inadequate
and are regarded as a cost of doing business. Under the current bond system, GAO reports that " even if the maximum
damages had been collected, the importer would have still made a profit on the sale of the shipment." This bill would
subject such behavior to tough penalties that will be a strong deterrent to circumventing the current regulatory system.
These penalties are the same as those used by USDA in their imported meat inspection program.
The bill would also prohibit an importer from commercially distributing foreign-produced food, without FDA approval. An
importer whose food is refused entry by FDA would be responsible for the disposition or re-exportation of such food
products. Failing to do so would make the importer subject to penalties under the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act.
Development of "Real-Time" Laboratory Methods to Test for Pathogens to be Used in Border Inspections
FDA wrote in a January 16, 1998 letter that there is a "critical need for rapid, accurate methods to detect, identify and
quantify pathogens in a wide variety of environments..." "
The methods for detecting a wide range of bacterial, viral, and parasitic pathogens in or on fresh fruits and vegetables
are limited ..."
This bill would provide additional funds for research and development on test methods to detect E. coli, salmonella and
other disease-causing microorganisms and pesticide residues in imported food, as it enters the U.S. and before it is
distributed to the public. The bill requires FDA to devote resources to developing such tests within three years of the
date of enactment. This funding will be in addition to FDA appropriated funds and will be collected through a modest,
$20 per entry, user fee on imported food.
User Fee for Imported Food
This legislation also provides for a modest user fee be paid to the FDA for each entry of foreign food imported into the
U.S. It is clear that the current majority in Congress is not prepared to appropriate funds needed to protect Americans
from unsafe food. Funds for the President's food safety initiative were recently zeroed out at the Senate Appropriations
Committee and in the House, the President's initiative received only a token funding level.
A user fee on imported food, like the user fee in the Imported Food Safety Act, would ensure that FDA has much
needed resources to protect American consumers from unsafe imported food. The proceeds from this user fee would be
used to fund much needed research efforts on "real time" test methods for detecting pathogenic contaminants in food
and to fund increased FDA efforts to inspect foreign fresh and packaged foods coming into the country.
The U.S. imports approximately 2.7 million entries of food each year that are valued at approximately $36 billion. The bill
provides that a per entry fee of no more than $20 would be imposed on food imports. This fee is not based on the value
of a shipment of imported food. Instead, it is an amount based on the cost of processing and approving food imports,
including the cost of sampling and testing.
Finally, this bill requires country-of-origin labeling of all imported foods. Restaurants and other prepared-food service
establishments are exempted from complying with the country- of-origin labeling requirement. We often forget that the
toughest, and many times the best, regulators are America's consumers. This bill gives consumers information that
allows them to make informed choices with respect to the conditions under which the food they buy is produced.
Maintaining public confidence in the safety of the food supply is of paramount importance. People must be confident that
the food they purchase and provide for themselves and their families is safe. Country-of-origin labeling will empower
consumers, giving them greater information on which to base their food purchasing decisions. This is especially
important in view of the now all too frequent outbreaks of food-borne illness.
We need to focus our efforts on eradicating food-borne illness in this country. As our consumption of imported food
continues to grow, we must find ways of ensuring that foreign produced food meets our health and safety standards. It
simply is no longer acceptable for government to blame its failures on the increased volume of imports or the fact that
detection methods are not available.
FDA must be given the authority, the resources, and the responsibility to ensure that foreign produced foods get to the
consumers of this country, if, and only if, they meet U.S. health and safety standards.
The Imported Food Safety Act of 1998 would give FDA, for the first time, the authority, resources, and responsibility it
needs to tackle this problem in a meaningful way. This is good public health policy, and the American people deserve no
less. I urge my colleagues to support this important legislation. Thank you.
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