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Sen. Harkin Lauds Consumers Union for Endorsing His Food Safety Legislation

February 24, 1998

Patrick Dorton or Jennifer Frost
(202) 224-3254

Consumer Reports Magazine Backs Harkin Food Safety Bill in Chicken Expose
Magazine States Chicken-Related Illness Has Tripled

WASHINGTON U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today announced that Consumer Reports magazine has backed his food safety legislation in its March issue. The Consumer Reports’ article entitled, "Chicken: What you don’t know can hurt you," called on Congress to pass Harkin’s Food Safety Enforcement Enhancement Act as one of their recommendations to combat food borne illnesses.

"This endorsement by one of America’s leading consumer watchdogs — Consumer Reports — will help my efforts to pass food safety legislation," Harkin said. "American consumers would be shocked to learn that USDA does not presently have the fundamental authority it needs to protect public health — not even to mandate a recall of contaminated meat or poultry. It’s a bizarre irony that USDA currently has the power to collect civil fines to enforce the Pecan Promotion Act and the Animal Welfare Act, but not to enforce food safety rules."

"The power to recall tainted meat and poultry and to seek civil fines is essential," Mark Silbergeld, who is the co-director of the Consumers Union Washington office, said. "All USDA can do now is shut down plants and seek criminal penalties, which is like having to seek the death penalty for every violation of the law. The agency won’t do that very often, so we need penalties more suited to less extreme violations."

As detailed in the article, Consumer Reports tested nearly 1,000 fresh chickens for salmonella and campylobacter from supermarkets and specialty stores in 36 cities across the country. They found harmful bacteria in more than two-thirds of the samples campylobacter was found in 63% of the chickens; salmonella in 16%; both pathogens were in 8%; 29 percent were free of both. Americans are eating more chicken than ever before an estimated 74 pounds per person in 1997, up from 58 pounds in 1987.

Consumer Reports made several recommendations to make America’s meat and poultry safer, including the passage of "The Food Safety Enforcement Enhancement Act so the government can order recalls and levy civil fines."

In October, Harkin introduced The Food Safety Enforcement Enhancement Act, S.1264, to provide the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) modern enforcement tools to bolster the new HACCP meat and poultry inspection system. Under Harkin’s bill, USDA would: be notified immediately whenever contaminated meat or poultry is found; have the authority to order a recall of contaminated meat or poultry products; and be able to levy civil money penalties for violations of basic food safety rules.

"Food safety is a multifaceted problem. Everyone has a stake
in ensuring that America’s food supply remains the safest in
the world," Harkin