Food Safety on Washington's Front Burner

Food safety is very much on the minds of Washington, D.C., policymakers at the moment. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, the Bush administration's point man on import safety, is scheduled to be the first witness this morning when U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., opens a 10:30 a.m. EST hearing on food safety by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which Kennedy chairs. The hearing will focus on FDA's oversight of the safety of domestic and imported food products.

The United States next week will sign two binding memoranda of understanding with China that are intended to ensure food, animal feed, drugs, and medical devices imported from China meet U.S. safety standards, Leavitt said yesterday in a speech before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Four weeks ago, Leavitt spoke at the White House about a report delivered by him and 11 other Cabinet secretaries on strengthening the safety of imported products. The report outlined a new strategy: ensuring safety at the foreign manufacturing/growing point rather than policing products upon arrival at 300 U.S. entry points that now receive goods from 825,000 importers but may be receiving triple today's import volume by 2015, Leavitt said. He called it "a strategy of preventing with verification. That is to say, we roll the borders back and make certain that quality is being built in at the manufacturing point," adding that "the basic strategic change here is going from just intervening at the border to building it in."

Sen. Kennedy's hearing notice said five witnesses are on a panel to testify after Leavitt: Michael R. Taylor, a George Washington University research professor of health policy; Paul Young, Ph.D., senior marketing manager for Waters Corp. in Northern Ireland; Cal Dooley, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association; Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest; and J. Joseph Corby, director of the New York Department of Agriculture & Markets in Albany, N.Y.

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