The ability of the public and private sectors to safeguard the
food supply in Oklahoma from bacteria, disease and terrorists is
being evaluated by state legislators.
Another goal of the newly created Food Safety Task Force, said
Rep. James E. Covey, D-Custer City, is to preserve public
confidence. Consumers need to feel relatively secure that what they
eat is not contaminated, said Covey, who chairs the task force and
the House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee.
A primary focus of the task force will be an appraisal of
laboratories in Oklahoma.
Sen. Paul Muegge, D-Tonkawa, who chairs the Senate Agriculture
and Rural Development Committee, mentioned a dairy laboratory at
Tulsa, a lab in the state Agriculture Department headquarters in
Oklahoma City, a lab maintained by the State Health Department and
an animal disease diagnostic lab at Oklahoma State University.
"We might want to contact private vendors, too, and see what's
out there in the way of third-party testing," said Sen. Bruce Price,
D-Hinton, vice chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Covey said the Food Safety Task Force should procure from
laboratories in the state "an assessment of their facilities." He
said legislators want the labs to submit a report outlining what
their capabilities are and what they need to do their mission in the
area of food safety.
"We've got to look at these facilities because they're our first
line of defense," Muegge said. "So far as I know, none of our labs
has the capability of dealing with a biohazard like anthrax."
Muegge, who was elected vice chair of the task force, also said
some of the laboratories in Oklahoma are not really capable of
dealing with public health scares such as the "mad cow" and hoof-
and-mouth outbreaks that occurred in the United Kingdom.
Those diseases have taken on a more ominous tone since the Sept.
11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., said Rep.
Clay Pope, D-Loyal.
Pope, a Kingfisher County farmer, is vice chairman of the House
Agriculture Committee and was the principal author of House Bill
1190, which created the House/Senate Food Safety Task Force.
HB 1190 established the new task force to study the
administrative, policy and fiscal implications of source identity,
disease transmission, country of origin and other food safety
Besides mad cow disease and hoof-and-mouth, Price reminded the
task force about the potential impact of less familiar but more
common food-supply diseases, such as salmonella.
He reminded lawmakers of a public health scare over cyanide-
laced grapes from Chile and mentioned an incident about a decade ago
that involved watermelons. Two growers in Bakersfield, Calif. …