[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[March 4, 1998]
[Pages 326-327]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks Supporting Legislation To Ensure the Safety of Imported Food
March 4, 1998

    The President. Thank you very much for the terrific remarks. Let 
me--first I want to move Senator Mikulski's box. [Laughter]
    Senator Barbara A. Mikulski. I don't 
want it to be a public health hazard. [Laughter]
    The President. Put it on some of those little germs. [Laughter]
    Thank you, Senator Mikulski, 
Senator Kennedy, Congresswoman 
Eshoo, Congresswoman Millender-
McDonald, and 
Congressman Pallone, thank you, sir. I'd 
also like to thank Secretary Shalala, 
Secretary Glickman, and Ambassador 
Barshefsky for the work they have done, 
and the Vice President for the work he has 
done on this issue over the last, now, more than 5 years.
    Last night I went to New York to the celebration of Time magazine's 
75th anniversary, and a number of us were asked to do portraits of 
heroic figures of the 20th century. I talked last night about Franklin 
Roosevelt, and we're in the Roosevelt Room here. But today I'm thinking 
more of Theodore Roosevelt, for it was Theodore Roosevelt at the 
beginning of this century who made an unprecedented national commitment, 
for that time, to protect America's families from unsafe food.
    It was at the dawn of the industrial age, when Americans were moving 
from farm to city, for the first time buying their food from other 
people instead of growing it themselves. Roosevelt ensured that for that 
time the rules we had made our food as safe as we could make it. 
President Roosevelt set a high standard nearly, now, a century ago. It 
has been a personal commitment of mine and of this administration to 
update that standard for the 21st century. As the world changes, new 
challenges arise, it takes new methods to do the old job right.
    The Vice President has told you about some things our administration 
has done to modernize food safety, to keep our food supply the safest in 
the world. I was literally stunned when I came here to find out that we 
were inspecting meat in the United States in the same way we had 
inspected it since 1910, and in the same way that dogs inspect it today, 
by smelling it and touching it. We're doing a little better now. 
    But as has been made painfully apparent today by the remarks of our 
two Members of Congress and by you, ma'am, 
there is still a lot we still have to do to meet the challenges to food 
safety posed by new patterns of trade and commerce in food.
    It wasn't long ago that you could walk to the produce section of a 
grocery store, look around, and find no more than a dozen items that 
would be there all year round. Today, thanks to this global food market, 
it's not uncommon to find up to 400 varieties, almost all of them year 
around. You can get summer squash in the chill of winter and winter 

[[Page 327]]

in the heat of summer now. And the farmer who grows these vegetables 
most likely no longer lives down the road from you. He might live across 
the ocean or on the other side of the world.
    It's more important than ever under these circumstances, now that 
we're getting the benefits of these new patterns, which are manifold, 
it's more important than ever that the food we eat be inspected and 
protected, from orchard to fruit basket, from farm to table, wherever 
the orchard or the farm may be. And when families join us--and millions 
and millions of Americans are joining us--as they walk through the 
produce section, we know that none of them should have to worry about 
where the food comes from or whether it's safe.
    Food safety really is part of the basic contract now between the 
consumers of our country and their Government. Any food that doesn't 
meet clear and strict standards should not come into the United States. 
It's that simple.
    Last fall, I announced a new initiative to ensure that fruits and 
vegetables coming from abroad are as safe as those grown here at home 
and to halt at the border or the dock any food that fails to meet those 
standards. I directed the Secretaries of Health and Human 
Services and Agriculture to report on our progress in improving food safety at 
home and abroad. This is their report; they've just given it to me 
before we came in here. It is a good and thorough one. It underscores my 
belief that while we have done a lot, more must be done, and we need the 
help of Congress to do more.
    The next important step to protect America's families from food-
borne illnesses requires Congress to enact the bill introduced by 
Senator Mikulski, Senator 
Kennedy, and others in the Senate, by 
Representatives Eshoo, Pallone, and others in the House. This is not a political 
issue. It's not a Democratic or a Republican issue. It is simply an 
issue whose time has come. We are getting all the benefits of global 
agriculture. We have to rise to the challenges of the same trends. By 
giving the FDA the tools and the technology it needs, the legislation 
will give Americans the extra protection they deserve.
    At the beginning of the century, Theodore Roosevelt recognized that 
new challenges demand new Government, in this case, a Government that 
demands responsibility from industry and producers, but also provides 
clearer, stricter standards of safety and the means to enforce them. Our 
families enjoy the greatest bounty and variety of food in the world. We 
have to ensure that it will also be the safest food in the world.
    The 21st century will be interesting for many reasons. Among them 
will be the increasing variety of food from all over the world that all 
kinds of Americans will be able to buy in their neighborhood stores. It 
will be one more way that people, I hope, will have a more enjoyable 
life in the next century. It will only happen if the food is safe and 
people know it's safe, so they're not worried when they shop.
    Again, I want to join the Vice President, if I might in closing, in thanking the Senate for passing 
the bill yesterday to reduce the standard of drunk driving to .08. I 
think it's very important, it will save hundreds of lives a year. I hope 
the House will follow suit, and I hope that's an indication that these 
kind of public safety issues will be high on the agenda of Congress and 
that the bill that our Members who are here today are pushing so hard 
will find a speedy and positive reception in the Congress.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 2:03 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the 
White House. In his remarks, he referred to Gloria Doyle, a victim of 
acute cyclospora food poisoning attributed to imported fruit in May 
1997, who introduced the President.