Published on 03/18/98

Glickman Connects Agricultural Research to People

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman came to Georgia Friday to view the harsh effects of floods and freezes on Georgia agriculture. But he saw much more.

Glickman expanded his Georgia visit to include the University of Georgia campus and the Richard B. Russell Agricultural Research Center because "Georgia is clearly a food safety leader." The UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences has the largest collection of food safety researchers in the country.

Advances in food safety and sanitation issues depend on strong research in food science and other related areas. Yet the dollars for research are going down, Glickman said.

"President Clinton made a powerful case for support of research for health issues," Glickman said. "Everyone understands research into cancer. They know this research can improve their lives. "

But people don't know or understand that link between agricultural research and their lives," he said. "Even with all the work on genetic engineering, technology and ways of feeding the world, people just don't see any relationship of what is being done in agricultural research to the average American. It affects everybody's lives, not just farmers."

The one area with big increases in funding, Glickman said, is food safety. "And that's because kids died from E. coli," he said.

Glickman spoke out in favor of the President's $101 million initiative for better meat and poultry inspection, consumer education, risk assessment and surveillance.

"A big chunk of that $101 million is for an educational campaign for consumers," Glickman said, "It would be a big mistake not to realize this is a farm-to-home issue. The consumer has a great deal to do with his or her own food safety."

Although consumers must understand how to properly prepare and cook foods, the food processing industry is primarily responsible for producing safe food, the secretary said.

USDA closed down two dozen plants short-term last year because they didn't comply with food safety and contamination rules. "I call it the atomic bomb of authority," Glickman said. "I can shut down a plant. But that puts people out of work. I'd rather have the power to fine and the authority to order mandatory recall. I can only ask.

"The Consumer Product Safety Commission can recall toys, but we can't recall bad food. You can draw your own conclusions from that."

Even with these limits, Glickman said, this country has the safest food safety system in the world. When Asian markets plummeted from fear of influenza from poultry and Europeans cut back on beef during the mad cow disease scare, American shoppers showed no signs of fear.

"Consumers have confidence in the American food supply," Glickman said. "Producers know if consumers have confidence, they will continue to buy."