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Food Safety Event

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(As Prepared for Delivery)

Thursday, July 2, 1998

Before we begin, on behalf of President Clinton, I want to share some good economic news. More than five years ago, President Clinton and I put in place a new economic strategy to tackle America's economic challenges head-on. This morning, we received fresh evidence that our strategy is working --helping to create jobs and opportunities for America's families.

A couple of hours ago, the Labor Department announced that 205,000 new jobs were created last month, bringing the total number of new jobs added since President Clinton and I took office to an amazing 16.2 million. Today's report also shows that for the first time in nearly three decades, unemployment has remained below 5 percent for a full year. And real wages continued to rise at their fastest pace in more than two decades.

More jobs. Low unemployment. Rising real wages. As Americans get ready for those backyard barbecues, our economy is truly cooking.

At this time of prosperity --and as we look forward to the Fourth of July weekend --we know we can and must do more to declare independence from the dangers of food-born illness.

From the time President Clinton and I took office, we have worked hard to make sure that the food Americans eat --already among the safest in the world --is even safer. We put into place improved safety standards for meat, poultry, and seafood products, and expanded research, education, and surveillance throughout the food safety system. We took action to keep harmful pesticides off our fruits and vegetables, and created new protections against dangerous contaminants in our drinking water. As we end this century, we changed the way the meat and poultry inspection system works for the first time since the beginning of the century.

But we must do more. Despite all our progress, tens of millions of Americans become ill each year from eating unsafe food --and roughly 9,000 of them die from it. All of us must do our part if we are go to ensure that the food we serve our children is wholesome, safe, and free from danger.

That is why we have urged Congress to take the next step forward in food safety, by passing the President's Food Safety Initiative --to make fruits and vegetables even safer, to increase inspections, to teach high-risk populations about food safety, and to expand the early warning system for food-borne illness we put in place last year.

But as Americans fire up their barbecues, it saddens me to report that some in Congress are firing up their opposition. House Republicans have passed a budget that cuts our Food SafetyInitiative by more than 85 percent. Senate Republicans are poised to make cuts of a similar magnitude. That means fewer new food inspectors, fewer new safeguards for fruits and vegetables, and a smaller chance of a life-saving early warning. This shouldn't be a partisan issue. We need new weapons in the war on unsafe food --not a war on food safety in the Congress. The Republican food safety cuts are wrong --and they would America's children at risk.

I challenge Congress to fully fund our Food Safety Initiative and give Americans peace of mind when they reach for a piece of food. And I call on Congress to pass legislation that will allow the federal government to recall contaminated meat and poultry. The present system of recalls was created in an age when meat traveled around the corner. Today, it travels around the country. We need new authority to seize meat that may be contaminated, to protect America's families.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, most outbreaks of food-borne illness come about because of the mishandling of prepared food. That's why all the relevant parts of our government came together to develop the first "Food Code" --a collection of the most up-to-date, science-based food safety standards available. As we begin this 4th of July weekend, I encourage all state and local governments, as well as restaurants, grocery stores, nursing homes, day care centers, and others, to follow the recommendations in the "Food Code." If we want our friends and families to be safe, this is one code that shouldn't be broken.

And something as important as the food we prepare demands personal responsibility as well. We'll hear more about this in a moment. But some basic rules are good reminders to all of us. Defrost the meat evenly. Make sure the meat you cook has been properly refrigerated. Keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Make sure your utensils and counter tops are clean.

The 4th of July is more than just a long weekend. It is a time when we remember what it means to be Americans, in the company of our families, our communities, and our fellow citizens. I hope that all Americans have a safe 4th of July --and don't let avoidable food-borne illnesses endanger their life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness.

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