H.H.S. secretary announces initial import safety plan

by FoodBusinessNews.net Staff
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WASHINGTON — Following the contamination of pet food products with melamine labeled as wheat flour and the banning of some seafood products from China, President George W. Bush established an import safety working group to develop a plan to further enhance the safety of imported products into the U.S. As a result of the action, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt made several recommendations to the president.

"The United States needs to work with the importing community to change its strategy," Mr. Leavitt said. "Fundamental change in our strategy is being recommended. It’s a change from an intervention-focused strategy to a risk-based approach focused on prevention with verification. Instead of a point-in-time assessment at the border, we’re recommending a focus on the full import life cycle, building safety into the products that we purchase every step of the way."

Six initial strategies recommended by the group include:

1. Advance a common vision.

2. Increase accountability enforcement and deterrence.

3. Focus on the risks over the life cycle of the imported product.

4. Build interoperable systems. "There is a remarkably important opportunity here to create interoperability among systems, so that we can see the life cycle of the product and have much more efficient capacity to track and to screen and to respond," Mr. Leavitt said.

5. Create a culture of collaboration.

6. Promote technological innovation with new science.

Over the coming weeks, the import safety working group will begin to solicit extensive comment to the public and by mid-November will provide a follow-up action plan that will lay out a road map with short- and long-term recommendations on improving product safety.

"The strategic framework we’re presenting to the president today will focus in a way that makes the most efficient use of our resources and provides the greatest protection to the American consumers over the long-term," Mr. Leavitt said. "The federal government cannot and should not attempt to physically inspect every product that enters the United States. Doing so would not only bring international trade to a standstill, it would distract the limited resources from those imported goods that pose the greatest risk. And so, instead, we have to do this smarter."

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