USDA chief says administration may seek new meat inspection powers

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said Wednesday the Bush administration is considering asking Congress for several new powers to "modernize food safety authorities."

Veneman said the Bush administration is considering asking for authority to require mandatory notification to USDA when a federal establishment has reason to believe that meat or poultry has been adulterated or misbranded, authority to impose civil penalties after notice in writing and continued lack of compliance, in addition to the authority to issue cease-and-desist orders and stop companies earlier from committing violations of safety practices.

Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., all have encouraged the executive branch to ask for more authority in meat and poultry inspection. But the industry has generally opposed them, and Bush administration officials have said previously they did not need more authority.