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WASHINGTON - Senate Democrats on Wednesday asked the Bush administration to seek the legal authority to require food companies to recall tainted products, The Associated Press reports.
The Clinton administration was unsuccessful when it pushed for mandatory recall authority because of opposition from the food industry. Last year's anthrax attacks have raised new concerns in Congress about the government's power to ensure food safety.
Elsa Murano, the Agriculture Department's undersecretary for food safety, said food companies are good about recalling contaminated products without being forced to do so, according to the AP.
There has only been one case where a company initially refused to issue a recall, and the firm eventually did so anyway after USDA moved to seize the food, she said.
Murano added that she didn't see any downside to the government having the authority to require recalls.
A 2000 report by the General Accounting Office cited two cases where the Agriculture Department was slow or indecisive in pushing a company to issue a recall: The 1997 outbreak of E. coli poisonings linked to a Hudson Foods plant in Nebraska, and a 1998 listeria outbreak traced to a Bil Mar Foods plant in Michigan.
Last year, the department recorded 86 recalls of meat and poultry products around the country and about 30 percent of those were initiated by the company, Murano said.