- The Washington Times - Monday, December 6, 2004

Outgoing Health and Human Services Director Tommy G. Thompson yesterday said new record-keeping rules will help protect the nation’s food supply from terrorists.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued final regulations on maintaining records to protect the human food and animal feed supply, a requirement of the Bioterrorism Act.

“Publication of this record-keeping rule represents a milestone in U.S. food safety and security,” Mr. Thompson said.

“There is more work to do yet, but our nation is now more prepared than ever to protect the public against threats to the food supply,” Mr. Thompson said.

Last week, Mr. Thompson said during his resignation speech that he worries “every single night” that terrorists will attack America’s food supply.

“For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do,” Mr. Thompson said.

Imported food undergoes “a very minute amount” of inspection upon entering the country, he said last week. “We import a lot of food from the Middle East, and it would be easy to tamper with that,” Mr. Thompson said.

Yesterday’s remarks do not contradict Mr. Thompson’s statements last week, said Tony Jewell, HHS spokesman.

“If you look at everything he said Friday, he talked about how far we have come in increasing the number of inspections, and later, when asked questions, talked about his concerns,” Mr. Jewell said.

When Mr. Thompson took over HHS, there were 12,000 inspections of food imports a year. That number has increased to 100,000.

“That doesn’t contradict at all. We are more prepared, but he also says there is still more work to do and it still gives him concern,” Mr. Jewell said.

The budget for inspections also grew dramatically from hundreds of thousands of dollars to $150 million during Mr. Thompson’s tenure.

“He’s talked about his concerns on this issue for years, which is why we have so significantly increased spending on food safety and the number of inspections,” Mr. Jewell said.

President Bush on Saturday downplayed Mr. Thompson’s remarks but also acknowledged that “there’s a lot of work to be done.”

“We’re a large country with all kinds of avenues where somebody can inflict harm,” Mr. Bush said. “We’re doing everything we can to protect the American people.”

In case of an accidental or intentional contamination, the new rules allow officials to follow the food chain from its source to its final destination for a full recall.

“These records will be crucial for FDA to deal effectively with food-related emergencies such as deliberate contamination of food by terrorists,” said Dr. Lester M. Crawford, acting FDA commissioner.

“The ability to trace back will enable us to get to the source of contamination. The records also enable FDA to trace forward to remove adulterated food that poses a significant threat in the food supply,” Mr. Crawford said.

The new rules affect businesses that manufacture, process, pack, transport, distribute, receive, hold or import food. The records will identify the previous source of all food received and the recipient of all food released. Companies must make the records available to the federal government within 24 hours of the request.

Also last week, Mr. Thompson warned of a pandemic of avian flu because of a vaccine shortage.

“This is a really huge bomb that could adversely impact on the health care of the world,” he said.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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