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Clinton Administration Proposes New Rules Ensuring Food Safety

By Marlene Cimons and Martha Groves
Los Angeles Times

The Clinton administration on Monday announced new steps to strengthen the safety of the United States' food supply, hoping to avoid episodes such as the recent exposure of school children to frozen strawberries contaminated with the hepatitis A virus.

Perhaps most significantly, the new program will attempt to fill existing gaps in the food protection system that have been the source of most of the recent problems.

For example, the initiative includes a plan to extend government inspection practices now used for meat, seafood and poultry to the manufacture of fruit and vegetable juices. Separately, federal agencies will attempt to develop new measures to prevent food-borne illnesses from egg products and produce, which in the past have proven particularly difficult to detect and control.

It also includes steps to increase the number of seafood inspectors and improve the monitoring of imported foods.

"When children reach for a piece of food, parents deserve to have peace of mind," said Vice President Al Gore, who announced the proposed $43.2 million program to an audience that included victims of recent food-borne disease outbreaks.

The program, meant to build on existing safety procedures, was first announced in January by President Clinton. It was drafted by the departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, all of which share jurisdiction over food safety and regulation.

Congress must approve the money to implement the program as part of the budget for the federal fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

Food safety has taken on higher priority around the world in the wake of recent outbreaks traced to an array of products from beef to lettuce to berries.

In an episode last year, for instance, dozens of children and adults in several states and Canada became sick - and one Colorado toddler died - after exposure to deadly E. coli O157:H7 bacteria from unpasteurized apple juice manufactured by Odwalla, Inc., a company based in Half Moon Bay on the Northern California coast.