Bush seeks tougher rules on imports, food recalls

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WASHINGTON, Nov 6 (Reuters) President George W Bush today proposed tougher inspection rules designed to keep dangerous food and other products from entering the United States and said he would seek broader government authority to recall unsafe foods domestically.

The move to bolster import protections comes after several product recalls that have raised consumer fears about items such as tainted toothpaste, seafood, tires and toys with lead paint.

''For many years we have relied on a strategy based on identifying unsafe products at the border,'' Bush said. ''The problem is that the growing volume of products coming into our country makes this approach increasingly unreliable.'' The volume of goods imported into the United States has grown to 2 trillion dollars in 2006 from 825,000 separate importers.

Some are projecting that import volumes could triple by 2015.

The proposals were among 50 recommendations made by an advisory panel, headed by Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, that was formed in July to review import safety for Bush. Many of the recent safety scares have come from China, but the administration said the report was not about singling out one country.

''This is not about China,'' Leavitt said. ''This is about insuring that we have safe products.'' Among the panel's recommendations, the US Food and Drug Administration would have the power to order a recall of food when safety concerns arise, a move which would require congressional approval.

Leavitt said he has ''complete confidence'' that the United States already has ''among the safest food supplies on the planet.'' The FDA also should have the authority to reach agreements with some countries to require certain high-risk foods meet FDA standards before they can be exported, the panel said.

In addition, the board proposed new incentives for importers that follow strong safety practices and have good track record. It also would increase training for inspectors in foreign countries so they can stop dangerous goods at their borders along with imposing penalties on foreign and domestic groups that violate US import laws.

REUTERS MP AS0218

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