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    Officials: Bush to Request $81 Million More for Food Safety

    WASHINGTON - U.S. officials on Thursday said President Bush will seek an 11 percent increase in the US Agriculture Department's 2004 food safety budget to strengthen protections against harmful bacteria in food and increase security at laboratories, The Boston Globe reports.

    WASHINGTON - U.S. officials on Thursday said President Bush will seek an 11 percent increase in the US Agriculture Department's 2004 food safety budget to strengthen protections against harmful bacteria in food and increase security at laboratories, The Boston Globe reports.

    Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman said that Bush will recommend $797 million in the budget he will send to Congress next month. That's $81 million more than in the 2002 budget, and an increase of $100 million, or 14 percent, over 2001. The 2003 budget proposal has yet to be approved by Congress.

    Veneman made the announcement at the US Poultry and Egg Association's conference in Atlanta.

    USDA inspectors will focus on testing meat and poultry more frequently for bacteria such as listeria and E. coli, she said.

    Citing food-poisoning outbreaks that killed nine people last year, Veneman said, "Our goal is to reduce and eventually eliminate the need for recalls."

    In addition to improving food safety protections, the proposed budget will include $70 million to increase security to guard against bioterrorism and the spread of pathogens, particularly at USDA laboratories where animal diseases, plant pests, and vaccines are studied. It also would be spent on improving monitoring.

    Tim Willard, spokesman for the National Food Processors Association, said the industry would oppose the plan if it means they would be charged fees to support inspections.

    "Food safety and food safety inspection are not a benefit to the industry," he said. "It really amounts to a tax on food production."

    Carol Tucker Foreman, director of the Consumer Federation of America Food Policy Institute, said, "The public will not benefit if inspectors are dependent on the owner of a filthy meat plant as the source of their pay check."

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