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For Release: Wednesday, April 2, 1997

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Bumper Crop of Illnesses Traced to FDA-Regulated Foods, Like Fruit Juice, Lettuce and Shellfish

Consumer Organizations Call on Clinton to Form New Food Agency

WASHINGTON, DC--Consumer organizations today called on President Clinton to form a new independent food agency to address existing and emerging hazards in the food supply. Citing recent examples of deadly bacteria in unexpected foods, such as lettuce and unpasteurized juice, the groups warned of more "bumper crops of illnesses."

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and Safe Tables Our Priority (S.T.O.P.) urged President Clinton to form an independent federal food agency to assure American consumers that existing and emerging food hazards will be fully addressed.

"Bacteria in hamburger killed my son. Now it's showing up in more foods, like lettuce and unpasteurized juice," said Nancy Donley, president of S.T.O.P. "We have one food supply. We need one food agency."

In 1996, there were numerous food safety problems with FDA-regulated food products, including:

Many of those examples represent emerging food safety problems. The groups noted, however, that the agency in charge of those serious hazards, the Food and Drug Administration, is poorly-funded and inadequately staffed.

"Last year, there was a bumper crop of foodborne illnesses from FDA-regulated foods," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety at the CSPI. "Years of inadequate funding have left FDA with a food safety program that is little more than a recall agency for contaminated foods."

"FDA hasn't controlled food hazards that already exist, like deadly bacteria in oysters." said Vicki Peal, a Florida schoolteacher who lost her father to deadly oysters. "I fear the consequences of having this agency oversee new food safety threats."

The organizations praised the Clinton Administration for taking positive steps to improve food safety by adopting mandatory systems for preventing contamination in meat, poultry and seafood plants. However, in a memo to the President, they warned that piecemeal reform was not enough.

"The bottom line is that consumers are paying a terrible price for the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of the existing system of foodborne illness prevention," the groups advised the President. "It is time to reinvent and rationalize the system."

The groups said that "piecemeal reforms" are not enough. "We need fundamental reform," they advised the President, "if we are to benefit from a more effective food safety system. We need a single federal food agency to address the unacceptably high rate of foodborne illness and inconsistent food safety policies across the federal government.

"We need the government to adopt food safety assurance systems that are proactive in identifying and preventing contamination rather than waiting until large food poisoning outbreaks and public outcry make action a political necessity."

Also signing onto the memorandum to the President are Consumer Federation of America, Public Voice for Food and Health Policy, Government Accountability Project, and United States Humane Society.

CSPI is a nonprofit health-advocacy organization that focuses on nutrition and food safety. It is based in Washington, D.C., and is supported largely by its 900,000 members. It does not accept industry or government funding. CSPI led efforts to win passage of the law requiring nutrition labels on food packages and has publicized the nutritional content of many popular restaurant foods.

S.T.O.P., Safe Tables Our Priority, is the only national grassroots organization representing foodborne illness victims, their friends, and families. S.T.O.P. maintains a victims assistance hotline, 1-800-350-STOP.

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