The Bush Administration said today that it will allow Chilean fruit back on the U.S. market, ending a five-day public health scare sparked by the discovery of traces of cyanide in two grapes.
“With these and other safeguards in place we believe that this program will provide the maximum feasible safety for fruit from Chile,” FDA Commissioner Frank Young told a news conference after outlining a plan for stepped-up inspections in this country and abroad.
Young said he had “high confidence of detecting anything if something was there.” But he conceded, “It is impossible to insure 100% safety.” And he urged grocers and consumers to make their own checks when Chilean fruit reappears on the shelves in five to nine days.
The plan was announced despite a third poisoning threat received by the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, Young said. He said he got word of the latest threat, which was made today, a short time before he announced the plan. He said the latest threat doesn’t raise any more concern than the first two.
Young outlined the Administration’s plans for ending the five-day public health scare after President Bush told reporters that the quarantine of Chilean fruit had been justified despite any economic hardship it imposed.
‘Some Economic Hardship’
“It has cost some economic hardship that I regret,” Bush said.
“I think when the health of the American people might be threatened you’ve got to take prudent action,” the President told reporters aboard Air Force One en route back to Washington.
At a crowded news conference a few minutes later, Young said, “We are now ready to reintroduce Chilean fruit, beginning with grapes, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.”
He said that since the small amounts of cyanide were found in two grapes over the weekend, no additional evidence of contamination has been uncovered. He said 13,000 crates of fruit have been inspected since the two poisoned grapes were found.
Young said Chilean fruit en route to the United States will be subjected to increased inspection, and said the Chilean government will take safety measures before allowing produce to leave the country.
Loss of Jobs in Chile
He said fruit in some ships in port in Philadelphia also will be inspected.
But he said, “Any Chilean fruit in the hands of importers . . . will be destroyed to eliminate fruit that cannot be practically inspected.”
The discovery of the two poisoned grapes touched off a major public health scare in this country and difficulties of a different sort in Chile, where fruit is a major export and where thousands of agricultural workers have been threatened with the loss of their jobs during the peak harvest season.
Young dismissed questions about who would bear the cost of the lost fruit and the inspections. “The day I start to look at health with regard to somebody’s left hip pocket or pocketbook, then I am not focusing enough in regard to safety,” he said.