TWO NEW FOREIGN FOOD-SAFETY BILLS INTRODUCED

WASHINGTON (FNS) -- Two competing bills designed to keep contaminated foreign food out of the United States have been introduced in the Senate as the latest legislative food-safety entrants this Congress.The new legislation largely targets fresh food -- including produce, dairy and seafood -- but would also cover canned goods or other processed products.One measure, sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins,

WASHINGTON (FNS) -- Two competing bills designed to keep contaminated foreign food out of the United States have been introduced in the Senate as the latest legislative food-safety entrants this Congress.

The new legislation largely targets fresh food -- including produce, dairy and seafood -- but would also cover canned goods or other processed products.

One measure, sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, would step up border inspections and testing of imported food at U.S. borders. The other bill, sponsored by Sens. Barbara Mikulski. D- Md., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., would require imported food to be produced, prepared and packed under the same food-safety conditions as in the U.S. and allow the government to put countries on importing probation when contaminated shipments are detected.

These provisions of the Mikulski-Kennedy bill essentially mirror that of a bill introduced by Collins last year, which garnered criticism from the supermarkets, produce importers and food processors. Collins' bill this year was designed to address these concerns, however the industry continues to signal red flags.

"The FDA already has plenty authority to effectively provide for inspection of the imported food supply," said Tom Stenzel, president, United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association.

Increased funding in recent years targeted at ensuring foreign food is safe has allowed FDA officials to increase voluntary inspections of farms and processing plants abroad, as well as step up border review of imports, Stenzel said.

Stenzel said some provisions in the Collins bill addressing port shopping by importers trying to sneak an already FDA-rejected shipment into the United States are "common sense" ideas the industry may be able to support.

"The Collins bill has addressed some of the concerns we expressed with her bill last year. She has tried to make it more helpful," he said.

The Mikulski-Kennedy bill's call for banning shipments of particular foods from entire countries until food-safety problems are remedied is criticized by the industry as being overly broad. The FDA already has authority to put individual suppliers on a probation list, Stenzel said. He said the same holds true for the bill's provision mandating equivalent food-safety standards in foreign countries.

Food processors also said the FDA and Customs Service has plenty of untapped authority and resources to step up scrutiny of imports.

"Customs has broad enforcement powers to use against importers who introduce or attempt to introduce foods into U.S. commerce which may pose a public health risk," said Brian Folkers, vice president, government affairs, National Food Processors Association.