The Bush administration appears to retain the Clinton commitment to protect the U.S. food supply. Despite the recent withdrawal of the arsenic-reduction regulations by the EPA, the administration and the FDA appear on track with several food safety rules.

Final rules that impose Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) for juice were published in the Federal Register on January 19, 2001. Although the Bush administration froze the effective date for all recently finalized rules, the FDA has requested that the original effective dates, January 22, 2002 for large producers and by January 22, 2004 for all but retail establishments, remain in place.

Whenever they take effect, the rules will require juice producers to identify in writing all reasonable sources (critical control points--CCPs) of biological, chemical or physical hazards to the product and to take steps to prevent those hazards from entering a production line. Companies must additionally establish monitoring procedures, plan for corrective actions if the CCPs or control limits are breached, and verify record-keeping procedures. Specially trained individuals must develop a site- and product-specific HACCP plan.

The FDA has stated that the rules and procedures outlined in the Juice HACCP, which are similar but more strenuous than rules for fish, meat and poultry, are to be models for forthcoming HACCP rules.

Salmonella testing. Last month, one day after the Bush administration proposed the elimination of salmonella testing of ground beef for the federal school lunch program and to allow schools to serve irradiated beef, USDA Secretary Ann Veneman rejected both proposals and stated she was keeping the tests in place.

The meat industry has objected to the tests, saying the zero-tolerance policy burdens processors. In addition, testing opponents contend the tests are not good indicators of production in a clean, controlled environment.

In February, Veneman also upheld a proposal to increase testing for Listeria monocytogenes in chilled, ready-to-eat meat products.

Pesticide residues. The FDA and EPA have collaborated on guidance to enforce the recent cancellation of tolerances for methyl parathion on some agricultural products. The guidance, called "Channels of Trade Policy for Commodities with Methyl Parathion Residues," appeared in the January 5, 2001 Federal Register. This document is designed to combat some difficulties the FDA faces when the EPA cancels pesticides for use on certain crops but not others and then revokes tolerances shortly thereafter. In such cases, some growers may have used the cancelled pesticide appropriately before the cancellation. In the methyl parathion case, December 31, 1999 is the last date for application on specific commodities before EPA revoked the tolerance for those commodities as of January 5, 2001.

Residues may appear in a product for a time after the tolerance revocation. The EPA told the FDA that it expected methyl parathion residues gone from fresh products by June 2000 and from shelf-stable or refrigerated foods by December 2000. Detectable residues from an application made legally on or before December 31, 1999 might remain in frozen products for up to four years from that date. Evidence must be provided to FDA, upon request, that shows the fruit or vegetable was treated with the pesticide prior to the date EPA imposed the ban. A producer would be allowed to show that processing occurred during 2000, when commodities from prior to the revocation might still have been in the channels of trade. FDA plans to use the methyl parathion guidance, if successful, as an enforcement approach model for other cancelled pesticides. FDA plans to release similar draft guidance when the EPA revokes the tolerances for vinclozolin.

Dioxin report controversy. The EPA Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) released its Draft Dioxin Reassessment Report in March for review at the cancelled April 11 meeting, which may take place in May. The report's most controversial finding is its disagreement with the EPA's classification of dioxins as carcinogens, identifying them only as "cancer-promoters." Disagreeing with the dual-risk assessment framework employed by the EPA, SAB suggests cancer and non-cancer risks should be calculated in the same way. The SAB recommends that the EPA develop a reference dose calculation to compare results with other substances and construct a "societal exposure goal." These findings seem to favor more research into dioxin exposure and its current levels in the food supply before advancing dioxin regulations.

Given the European food crisis and growing concerns about unsafe food here and abroad, the Bush administration is unlikely to carry its regulation-reductions into the food industry. The food industry needs to voluntarily adopt strong protections that assure public confidence in the food supply and avoid onerous regulations.