WASHINGTON (B)--President Clinton's Council on Food Safety is scheduled to convene Jan. 19, 2000, to discuss a U.S. "strategic" food safety plan to combat "chronic foodborne and waterborne illnesses."

At the January meeting, representatives of U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service are expected to lead the discussion with counterparts in the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Officials involved with the council were not available for immediate comment on plans for the January meeting, but if a recent radio speech by President Clinton is any indicator, salmonella will be a key topic.

In a Dec. 11 radio address, Clinton said, "We know certain foods carry a special risk for children, for the elderly, for those with weakened immune systems. My Council on Food Safety has identified eggs as one of those foods.

Every year, about 3.3 million eggs are infected with salmonella bacteria. This causes about 300,000 cases of illness. And when infected eggs still make it from the farm to the table, we know we have more work to do."

One day earlier the council released its "Egg Safety Action Plan" as a blueprint "to reduce and, ultimately, eliminate eggs as a source of human Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) illnesses" by boosting plant testing, inspection and research into egg vaccines and "in-shell pasteurization."

Another likely topic to be discussed by the council will be a proposed trade rule raising inspections of U.S. food imports. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, also a member of the President's Council on Food Safety, has been charged by the White House to draw up a new rule that would "set standards for private laboratories for the collection and analysis of samples of imported food for the purpose of gaining entry into the United States" and create stiffer penalties for violating customs laws.

The U.S. Treasury Department, in a report released recently, said, "While most imported foods are safe, and most importers comply with U.S. food safety requirements, a few importers try to sidestep U.S. laws to bring unsafe or contaminated food into the country. The President specifically directed the Food and Drug Administration...the agency responsible for the safety of most imported foods, and the United States Customs Service...to take all actions available to" insure tainted foreign food is stopped and destroyed at U.S. borders.

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