Ag Sec. Tom Vilsack wants mandatory recalls on tainted food

Tom Vilsack
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack gestures as he speaks to a rural community forum in El Reno, Okla., Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2009.
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the Obama administration is working to improve food safety.

A major New York Times report over the weekend on flaws in the food safety system cited cases in Minnesota.

Vilsack was in the state for a speech at the University of Minnesota.

He told Minnesota Public Radio News that the administration will ask Congress for legislation to permit mandatory recalls of tainted food.

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"If there's a problem we'd like to be able to respond quickly, rather than rely on a voluntary recall that may not be either timely or fully implemented," Vilsack said. "We'd like to have the power to get the product off the market and out of the market as quickly as possible."

Vilsack said 75 million Americans experience a food-borne illness each year, and 5,000 die from such illnesses.

"Until we get the number of food-borne illnesses down to zero, and the number of hospitalizations down to zero, and the number of deaths down to zero, we still have work to do," he said.

Vilsack also said the Agriculture Department's dual missions of protecting food safety and promoting farm markets don't necessarily contradict each other. He said the market needs to produce healthy food in order to succeed.