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President Calls For Legislation Ensuring Food Safety

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The Briefing Room

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 4, 1998


The Roosevelt Room

2:03 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much for the terrificremarks. Let me -- first I want to move Senator Mikulski's box.(Laughter.)

SENATOR MIKULSKI: I don't want it to be a public healthhazard. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Put it on some of those little germs.(Laughter.)

Thank you, Senator Mikulski, Senator Kennedy,Congresswoman Eshoo, Congresswoman Millender-McDonald; and,Congressman Pallone, thank you, sir. I'd also like to thankSecretary Shalala, Secretary Glickman, and Ambassador Barshefsky forthe work they have done, and the Vice President for the work he hasdone on this issue over the last, now, more than five years.

Last night I went to New York to the celebration of TimeMagazine's 75th anniversary, and a number of us were asked to doportraits of heroic figures of the 20th century. I talked last nightabout Franklin Roosevelt, and we're in the Roosevelt Room here. Buttoday I'm thinking more of Theodore Roosevelt, for it was TheodoreRoosevelt at the beginning of this century who made an unprecedentednational commitment for that time to protect America's families fromunsafe food.

It was at the dawn of the Industrial Age, when Americanswere moving from farm to city, for the first time buying their foodfrom other people instead of growing it themselves. Rooseveltensured that for that time the rules we had made our food as safe aswe could make it. President Roosevelt set a high standard nearly,now, a century ago. It has been a personal commitment of mine and ofthis administration to update that standard for the 21st century. Asthe world changes, new challenges arise, it takes new methods to dothe old job right.

The Vice President has told you about some things ouradministration has done to modernize food safety, to keep our foodsupply the safest in the world. I was literally stunned when I camehere to find out that we were inspecting meat in the United States inthe same way we had inspected it since 1910 -- and in the same waythat dogs inspect it today, by smelling it and touching it. We'redoing a little better now. (Laughter.)

But as has been made painfully apparent today by theremarks of our two members of Congress and by you, ma'am, there isstill a lot we still have to do to meet the challenges to food safetyposed by new patterns of trade and commerce in food.

It wasn't long ago that you could walk to the producesection of a grocery store, look around, and find no more than adozen items that would be there all year round. Today, thanks tothis global food market, it's not uncommon to find up to 400varieties, all most all of them year round. You can get summersquash in the chill of winter and winter squash in the heat of summernow. And the farmer who grows these vegetables most likely no longer

lives down the road from you. He might live across the ocean or onthe other side of the world.

It's more important than ever under these circumstances,now that we're getting the benefits of these new patterns, which aremanifold -- it's more important than ever that the food we eat beinspected and protected, from orchard to fruit basket, from farm totable, wherever the orchard or the farm may be. And when familiesjoin us -- and millions and millions of Americans are joining us --as they walk through the produce section, we know that none of themshould have to worry about where the food comes from or whether it'ssafe.

Food safety really is part of the basic contract nowbetween the consumers of our country and their government. Any foodthat doesn't meet clear and strict standards should not come into theUnited States. It's that simple.

Last fall, I announced a new initiative to ensure thatfruits and vegetables coming from abroad are as safe as those grownhere at home, and to halt at the border or the dock any food thatfails to meet those standards. I directed the Secretaries of Healthand Human Services and Agriculture to report on our progress inimproving food safety at home and abroad. This is their report;they've just given it to me before we came in here. It is a good andthorough one. It underscores my belief that while we have done alot, more must be done and we need the help of Congress to do more.

The next important step to protect America's familiesfrom food-borne illnesses requires Congress to enact the billintroduced by Senator Mikulski, Senator Kennedy, and others in theSenate, by Representatives Eshoo, Pallone, and others in the House.This is not a political issue. It's not a Democratic or a Republicanissue. It is simply an issue whose time has come. We are gettingall the benefits of global agriculture. We have to rise to thechallenges of the same trends. By giving the FDA the tools and thetechnology it needs, the legislation will give Americans the extraprotection they deserve.

At the beginning of the century, Theodore Rooseveltrecognized that new challenges demand new government -- in this case,a government that demands responsibility from industry and producers,but also provides clearer, stricter standards of safety and the meansto enforce them. Our families enjoy the greatest bounty and varietyof food in the world. We have to ensure that it will also be thesafest food in the world.

The 21st century will be interesting for many reasons.Among them will be the increasing variety of food from all over theworld that all kinds of Americans will be able to buy in theirneighborhood stores. It will be one more way that people, I hope,will have a more enjoyable life in the next century. It will onlyhappen if the food is safe and people know it's safe so they're notworried when they shop.

Again, I want to join the Vice President, if I might inclosing, in thanking the Senate for passing the bill yesterday toreduce the standard of drunk driving to .08. I think it's veryimportant, it will save hundreds of lives a year. I hope the Housewill follow suit and I hope that's an indication that these kind ofpublic safety issues will be high on the agenda of Congress and thatthe bill that our members who are here today are pushing so hard willfind a speedy and positive reception in the Congress.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

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