On Wednesday, President Bush established a Cabinet-level panel to recommend how to ensure the safety of imported food and other products and how better to police them.
The panel will be chaired by Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt. Leavitt is expected to report its recommendations to President Bush in 60 days.
The White House denied that this move was aimed at China even though the announcement was made on the same day that senators heard testimony from regulators about problems caused by the rapid growth of imports from China.
“It’s important for the American people to know their government is on top of this situation and constantly reviewing procedures and practices,” Bush said after his first meeting with the Working Group on Import Safety.
This is a serious issue - food safety and consumer safety is a serious issue. We take it seriously,” Bush said. “The American people expect their government to work tirelessly to make sure consumer products are safe. And that’s precisely what my administration is doing.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown said the creation of the panel will not address the problem.
“Establishing a product safety panel is like stamping out a single leaf in a forest fire,” said Brown, D-Ohio, who called for a broader look at trade issues.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said the move was not “a slap at China.”
“This is, in fact, a normal piece of business. We get food imports from 150 countries around the world. It’s important to monitor them all,” Snow told reporters.
Sen. Mark Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat who chaired the Senate hearing, was skeptical about the president’s executive order, saying it was more important to adequately fund existing agencies than create a study group.
“We need to have oversight of our marketplace,” said Pryor. “I don’t know if you need another panel looking at this.”