WASHINGTON - The White House formally sent to Congress on Friday a bill to broaden U.S. meat recall regulations but it arrived too late for the bill to be filed this week.
Several lawmakers were interested in sponsoring the bill, unveiled last week by Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, but had to delay action while the White House budget office examined the proposal.
Glickman said the government needed the power to order recalls -- they now are voluntary -- as well as impose up to $100,000 fines for violations and the ability to deny inspection to plants with willful or repeated violations.
The only bill pending in Congress at present was by Representative Nita Lowey, New York Democrat, to authorize fines against firms who violate meat safety rules. It was filed July 31.
"This is not a new concept," Lowey said in a statement. "Civil fines are a quicker, more effective deterrent for violators of food safety laws than the lengthy legal process needed to obtain a criminal conviction."
A bill to give recall and civil penalty powers to the Food and Drug Administration was under review at the budget office. An FDA spokesman said the legislation might be released next week.
The Agriculture Department is in charge of meats and meat products. FDA has jurisdiction over seafood, raw foods and processed foods.
Meanwhile, two food industry groups, the National Food Processors Association and American Meat Institute, asked FDA for a prompt decision on irradiation as a method to assure beef safety. FDA has been reviewing the question for three years.
NFPA president John Cady said in a letter that "instead of requesting a massive expansion of government power to mandate a recall, the FDA could prevent more recalls by making irradiation available to meat processors -- now."
Irradiation is employed by three dozen countries for a variety of foods. It uses low-level doses of radiation to destroy dangerous organisms.
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