Federal investigators are calling on the United States to stop importing food from nations that do not meet U.S. health and safety standards, saying the Clinton administration and Congress have failed to create a system to prevent food-borne diseases in imports that may sicken and kill people.
A new report by the General Accounting Office, the investigatory arm of Congress, recognizes the fact that booming global imports have overwhelmed federal efforts to protect the public from food-borne disease. But the report, to be published this week, points out that the present system of stopping tainted food at the nation's borders is outdated and ineffective.One solution would be to require that foreign nations create food-safety systems that meet U.S. standards, the GAO report said, but federal officials have not demanded this, fearing that it would disrupt trade.
In 1993, the Food and Drug Administration, citing "enormous inefficiencies in the current food-protection system" and the prob-lems posed by ever-increasing food imports, asked the Clinton administration for the power to bar fruits, vegetables, grains, fish and other food from countries with inferior food-safety systems.
The Department of Agriculture has that power over imported meat and poultry. The power is called equivalency - requiring a country that exports food to the United States to have a food-safety system equal to the U.S. system. Last year, the Clinton administration, in the heat of the battle to win "fast-track" free-trade authority, proposed giving the FDA the power to demand equivalency.
But nothing has been done to implement this, either by executive order or by legislation.
The GAO report recommends that "Congress require all foods eligible for import to the United States, not just meat and poultry, to be produced under equivalent food safety systems."