Bush Unveils Tougher Import Safety Rules

The Associated Press
Tuesday, November 6, 2007; 6:20 PM

WASHINGTON -- Government seals of safety could soon become regular fixtures on imported foods at risk for contamination, such as farmed fish, and on toys and other consumer products.

Under separate safety plans detailed by the Bush administration Tuesday, safety certification would be required for imported foods at risk. Foreign makers of toys and other common consumer products, too, could seek voluntary certification that they meet U.S. product safety standards in exchange for expedited entry into this country.

The plans are designed to toughen the way the government polices the $2 trillion worth of imports that arrive on U.S. shores each year from 150 countries _ an import total that is growing.

The plans were developed in response to a spate of recalls over the last year involving not only contaminated fish and toys decorated with lead paint, but also toxic toothpaste, chemically spiked pet food ingredients, leaden novelty jewelry, defective tires and other goods.

How to pay for the proposals laid out in the plans remained unclear.

President Bush said the United States benefits from having an open market and a huge variety of products from across the globe.

However, he said: "We need to do more to ensure that American families have confidence in what they find on our store shelves. They have the right to expect the food they eat, the medicines they take or the toys they buy for their children to be safe."

Acting on recommendations from an advisory panel, Bush proposed that the FDA be empowered to order mandatory recalls of unsafe food products. Currently, the FDA lacks such authority, even when the public health is at risk.

"Specifically, the FDA would be empowered to order a recall when a company refuses to recall their product voluntarily, or moves too slowly in removing the unsafe product from the market," Bush said.

The problems of the past year, like pet food ingredients spiked with the chemical melamine, won't necessarily go away once the plans are put in place, FDA commissioner Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach said. But the government should be able to better respond to eliminate or mitigate any threat when it does crop up, he said.

"Will there still be potential problems, where people who intend to do harm or by other circumstances something slips slip through? Yes, that's still going to be a possibility. That's why we're stressing response," von Eschenbach said of the FDA's food protection plan, which in large part revives a 2003 agency plan that has languished in draft form.

"This plan addresses both imported and domestically produced food and will strengthen the FDA's ability to coordinate with other federal agencies to protect our food supply," the president said.

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