Record funding proposed for food safety programs
President Bush will seek record-level support for the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s meat and poultry food safety programs, as well as increase efforts to strengthen agricultural protection systems in his fiscal 2004 budget, according to a USDA announcement on January 23, 2003. USDA’s food safety budget will increase to $797 million, an increase of $42 million over the 2003 request. The new request will fund 7,680 food safety inspectors, provide specialized training for the inspection workforce, increase microbiological testing and sampling, strengthen foreign surveillance programs, and increase public education efforts.
U.S. ensures continued poultry export to Mexico
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and USDA announced on January 23 that they successfully worked to ensure that U.S. poultry exports will continue to be exported to Mexico, forestalling possible Mexican action that could have resulted in significant trade disruption. On January 1, under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexican tariffs on U.S. poultry exports fell to zero. However, under NAFTA, Mexico could have taken action to impose a “safeguard” or emergency import tariff of up to 240% on U.S. poultry exports. Instead, Mexico will allow 50,000 metric tons of U.S. chicken leg quarters into Mexico duty-free over the next six months.
USDA to review research functions
Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman announced on January 21 the appointment of eight members to the Research, Education and Economics Task Force. The 2002 Farm Bill, signed by President Bush last May, created the task force to conduct a review of the Agricultural Research Service and to evaluate the merits of establishing one or more National Institutes focused on disciplines important to the progress of food and agricultural science.
FDA forms task force on health claims
Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Mark B. McClellan announced on January 16 the formation of an internal FDA task force that will develop scientific guidance for establishing standards for qualified health claims in foods. The task force is a key element of an initiative the agency announced in December to make available to consumers more and better information about the health benefits of food and dietary supplements. The Task force’s chair will be FDA Deputy Commissioner Lester Crawford, and the vice chair will be Joseph Levitt, Director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Within the next six months, the task force will report on how the agency should apply the “weight of the evidence” standard established under the consumer health information initiative for qualified health claims on conventional foods. The task force will hold monthly meetings starting this month and will identify mechanisms to obtain additional public input.
USDA increases BSE testing
USDA claims that it more than tripled the number of cattle it tested for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) during the past fiscal year and has made significant steps on other prevention measures aimed at keeping the disease from entering the United States. In fiscal year 2002, USDA tested 19,990 cattle for BSE, using a targeted surveillance approach designed to test the highest risk animals, including downer animals (animals that are non-ambulatory at slaughter), animals that die on the farm, older animals, and animals exhibiting signs of neurological distress. During FY 2001, USDA tested 5,272.
Report says FDA lacks framework to
evaluate transgenic fish
According to a new report from the Washington, D.C.–based Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, it is unclear whether the approach currently being used by government regulators gives them the tools to effectively evaluate environmental issues surrounding transgenic (genetically modified) fish. The report, “Future Fish: Issues in Science and Regulation of Transgenic Fish,” was released on January 14 and is available online at http://pewagbiotech.org/research/fish/.
FDA launches infant formula Web site
FDA’s Office of Nutritional Products, Labeling, and Dietary Supplements announced its new Infant Formula Web Site that contains infant formula information helpful to industry and consumers. It includes information about FDA’s regulation of commercial infant formulas, how to report problems, and links to other resources. The site is at www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/inf-toc.html.
by JAMES GIESE