The Honorable William Jefferson Clinton
The White House
July 6, 1998
Dear Mr. President:
Your Independence Day message to consumers about what your Administration is doing to make food safer as they warmed up their backyard grills was helpful but incomplete.
1. The largest percentage of foodborne illness occurs because those handling final food preparations fail to follow proper procedures to avoid cross contamination. Your Administration can take credit for initiating the Fight BAC Campaign, a government/consumer/ industry effort about how to handle food safely, and specifically how to avoid cross contamination of uncooked meat, poultry and fish and cooked products. There is no more important time to remind consumers about this than when they are lighting up the barbecues for holiday celebrations. A reference to handle food carefully in your closing comments should have gone much further.
2. The legislative initiative to impose civil money penalties on businesses over and above laws that already subject violators to criminal penalties will not make meat and poultry safer; rather, it will concentrate the manufacturing capacity in the hands of even fewer firms, which is counterproductive to the concerns expressed by your own Administration.
Much of the food business in the United States is in the hands of small businesses, many of them family-owned; we encourage you to seek ways to retain these businesses in this important activity, not squeeze them out of business by piling expensive civil penalties on top of the serious criminal penalties that already deter violators under current law.
3. Finally, the existing recall provisions to remove unsafe food from the marketplace are an excellent example of how government and industry work together towards a common goal. We know of no documented incidents where the existing procedures have failed to work to protect consumers, Rhetoric for new mandatory authorities is overkill and an unnecessary burden on commerce. The Harkin legislation would change recalls from a cooperative success story to an adversary confrontation. When food safety is the issue, experience has taught us that cooperation works more smoothly, and more quickly than edicts from regulators.
Our best holiday wishes to you and your family.