P.M. BRIEFING : Senate Unit OKs Seafood Check

From Times Wire Services

The Senate Agriculture Committee approved a plan today to create a mandatory seafood inspection program, but two consumer leaders said changes are needed to make sure the food is safe to eat.

At present, only a fraction of the 4 billion pounds of seafood consumed annually by Americans is inspected through a voluntary inspection program.

The legislation approved by the Agriculture Committee would give the Agriculture Department responsibility for carrying out inspections. The Food and Drug Administration would set tolerance levels for contaminants and the Commerce Department would be empowered to close waters to fishing boats if the area was polluted with dangerous chemicals.

Consumer advocates called the Senate legislation, which has the support of a wide range of consumer groups, labor unions and the seafood industry, a strong start. But they objected to a 10-9 committee vote to delete provisions to protect whistle blowers.