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Gillibrand calls for new food safety tests

By Chris Knight and Peter Crowley | Adirondack Daily Enterprise


U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
(Enterprise file photo)

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is using her position on the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee to push for several new food-safety measures that the meat industry opposes.

Gilli-brand is the first New York senator to sit on the committee in nearly 40 years. In a conference call this week, she pointed out that about 5 million people in the state - including 125,000 in the North Country - are afflicted with food-borne illnesses each year, but the nation's food safety regulations haven't been significantly updated in 100 years.

That's why she's promoting a plan that would overhaul food safety laws by improving inspection, response to recalls and public education.

"We've all known about the hazards of food-borne illnesses for decades," Gillibrand said, "but unfortunately the regulations, safeguards and measures we have in place do not go nearly far enough."

One bill, the E. coli Eradication Act, would require all plants that make or process ground beef to undergo regular E. coli inspections.

"In America, in 2009, it's unconscionable to me that food is still going straight to our kitchens, school cafeterias and restaurants without being properly tested to ensure its safety," Gillibrand said.

American Meat Institute President and CEO J. Patrick Boyle stated Wednesday that this bill "is certainly not a food safety silver bullet and would actually duplicate the millions of tests currently being conducted by the meat industry." He pointed out that what is tested is a small sample that doesn't necessarily represent the rest of a meat shipment of what customers buy in supermarkets.

Gillibrand countered that "leading processors in the industry, like Costco, have already determined that they cannot rely on suppliers alone to test the meat.

"The USDA has established proper sampling and testing methods that help ensure safer products," Gillibrand said in a prepared statement Friday. "The meat industry would do better by their consumers if they chose to adopt their own best practices and the guidelines from the USDA. However, in the absence of corporate responsibility, Congress should take action."

Gillibrand is also co-sponsoring the FDA Food Modernization Act, which would focus on preventing outbreaks before they start. It would streamline food-safety regulations among 15 different agencies and give the Food and Drug Administration more access to food industry records and plans.

Gillibrand is also calling for tighter restrictions and increased inspection of food that's imported from other countries. Fifteen percent of the U.S.'s overall food supply is imported from overseas, including $5.2 billion worth of food from China alone, she said.

To improve the response to food recalls, specifically in schools, Gillibrand is proposing the Safe Food for School Act, which will require agencies to issue recall alerts directly to schools.

Although some of the proposals could be challenged by the cattle and beef industry, Gillibrand believes most parents want tougher food safety regulations.

"We want to make sure hamburgers are safe," she said. "Even if it costs a few extra pennies per hamburger, that's a few pennies I think every parent in America will be willing to pay to make sure the food they're feeding their children is not going to kill their children."

 

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