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relatives. It is my nephew Billy, his wife Cathy Horton, and their little 14-month-old baby Joshua. So they are here for a few minutes Joshua is getting a little hungry so they won't stay through the hearings.
Mr. BARNARD. We are delighted to have you with us. And I must say you must be proud of your esteemed uncle. I know we are.
Mr. HORTON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
As you know, last spring I asked GAO to look into the manner in which our Government monitors the foods being imported into this country, to assure that such food meets our pesticide and chemical residue standards, as well as our food quality requirements. As a part of that investigation, following disclosure that some European wines were found to have been contaminated with diethylene glycol (DEG], I asked GAO to expand its inquiry to look specifically into the actions taken by our Government to assure that such contaminated wines did not reach U.S. consumers.
The GAO report of March 4, 1986, entitled “Imported Wines, Identifying and Removing Wines Contaminated With Diethylene Glycol” is the result of that investigation.
Very shortly after that report was issued, we read reports of contamination of Italian wines with methyl alcohol, a highly toxic substance. This hearing, therefore, is most timely to look into our Government's ability to respond to such a situation. Also, we can see whether the agencies involved have sufficient authority and internal planning to deal with these potential threats to the health of our citizens.
Mr. Chairman, as you know, I represent the Finger Lakes wineproducing region of New York State, and I work closely with the New York wine industry, and the American wine industry in general. And I know their problems and their potential.
I am glad that we will have the opportunity to hear from representatives of that industry today regarding the strict environmental standards, pesticide residue regulations, and processing requirements properly demanded of U.S. wine producers by our Government. If a substance such as DEG were found in an American wine, even in the most minute quantities, that wine would not be allowed to be sold, and would be totally recalled from the market.
In this regard, I am very pleased that not one U.S.-produced wine tested during this investigation was found to have even the slightest trace of ĎEG. Yet, the GAO reports that 81 different foreign wines available for sale in this country were found to contain DEG, some with as much as 19 grams per liter.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms of the Treasury Department is the agency that assumed responsibility in this matter. The Bureau has authority to regulate the marketing of foreign wines pursuant to the Federal Alcohol Administration Act of 1935. Under that act, BATF must approve labeling of imported wines and can seize mislabeled wines pursuant to that act and a provision of the Internal Revenue Code. The GAO report concluded
* the way BATF dealt with DEG in wines does not provide a high degree of confidence that all DEG-contaminated wines were identified and removed from the market."
The GAO report sets out the details of BATF's actions regarding suspected contaminated wines. It questions the agency's approach to assure that all contaminated wines were actually removed from the market. It also suggests that a health-risk evaluation should have been made, and special efforts undertaken to find and remove the more highly contaminated wines from the market.
What particularly disturbs me is the inadequate identification and monitoring procedures taken by Federal agencies to ensure the safety of foreign wines. I look forward to hearing BATF's testimony today in this regard. I also am anxious to hear from the Food and Drug Administration as to their ideas regarding the public health issues present, as well as what they see as proper roles that FDA and BĂTF should assume in dealing with any future episodes of this kind.
I realize that the DEG problem may have been the first matter of this magnitude with which BATF has had to deal. The problems found by GAO also may be partly the result of the orientation of that agency, since it deals primarily with problems of mislabeled products, rather than issues of public health. Whatever the reason for such difficulties, I hope that we can translate this experience into a plan of action that will allow our Government to respond better in the future should such a problem arise.
Mr. Chairman, we need to ensure that all food products that enter the United States, whether it is wine, apple concentrate, orange concentrate, grape concentrate, whatever, including the 100-million-plus gallons of wine we import, meet the same standards we impose on our American growers and producers in order to protect the public from adulterated and unsafe foods and wine products.
I trust this hearing will move us closer to that goal.
Mr. Chairman, I join with you in welcoming the GAO, and I want to thank them for the job that they did, and they are still continuing a broader study of all of the problems that we have with other types of food products imported into this country.
I also want to join with you in welcoming the Bureau, the BATF, basically they were designed to in their job to check alcohol content, not for contaminants, and I also want to welcome the FDA representatives.
I am also glad we have representatives from the Wine Grape Growers of America and also from the New York Wine Council talk about the requirements that they must meet, that is the domestic wines and American wines must meet in order to meet the standards that we lay down.
I would point out, Mr. Chairman, that the representative from New York Wine Council is John Martini, which is a little bit ironic but, Mr. Chairman, again, thank you for holding this hearing and I am looking forward to the testimony of the witnesses.
Mr. BARNARD. Thank you, Mr. Horton.
This date was selected for this hearing not knowing then that it would fall during the Memorial Day recess, but we felt it was important enough not to postpone it any further. I do want to thank Mr. Erdreich from Alabama, who is with us today, for being with us and I am sure that this subject is of much interest to the other members of our committee, but, of course, because of scheduling conflicts elsewhere, they could not be here.
Mr. Erdreich, do you have an opening statement?
Mr. ERDREICH. I just briefly would say, Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for holding this hearing. I think we all share the concerns that you and Mr. Horton have voiced. I am particularly concerned about the degree to which FDA and BATF coordinated their activities here and I will be interested to hear from GAO's recommendations how the two agencies have set forth better procedures for future handling of occurrences like this.
The public health, of course, is at issue here. I think it is very important that BATF and FDA set forth clear procedures to deal with these sorts of occurrences and also let us hear and maybe these hearings will determine, whether they need to be changed to make clear the legislative authority to deal with this problem.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding these hearings.
Mr. BARNARD. We are pleased and honored to have another distinguished Member of Congress, not a member of this committee, but
someone who is very much interested in this subject, and that is Congressman Robert Mrazek of New York. Bob, if you would care to make an opening statement we would be delighted to hear from you at this time.
Mr. MRAZEK. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I would like to thank you for allowing me to participate in these important hearings. As you just indicated in your opening statement a few moments ago, our purpose today is to examine the manner in which the FDA and the BATF have responded to problems within the last few months regarding the sale of wines containing unauthorized ingredients.
All of us share the concern that only wholesome foods and beverages be available for consumption by American consumers. All of us want to assure that Federal regulatory agencies are working constructively toward that goal.
I think to do so the agencies must be sure they are dealing with facts and not with assumptions and that they can make clear distinctions between products that pose a risk to the health of the American public and those that do not.
In this period of limited resources when the Federal Government is cutting back on personnel to deal with many issues of serious public concern, I think it is crucial that Federal agencies like the FDA and BATF concentrate on the genuine health hazards and not waste time and taxpayer dollars on regulatory activity when none is required.
I know that the witnesses today will focus on this important issue and address the question of how the FDA and BATF should in the future properly allocate their resources to discharge their responsibilities in dealing with alcoholic beverages, whether domestic or imported, which contain unsafe levels of any unauthorized ingredients.
I emphasize in particular my hope that witnesses will resist the temptation to use these hearings to gain some type of competitive advantage. Obviously that is not the purpose of these hearings. The question is public health, and not competitive gain.
I believe that this subcommittee should also address another related question. I think it would be inappropriate for us in Congress to criticize Federal agencies responsible for protecting the public for failing to act with sufficient vigor if we are simultaneously cutting off the resources or cutting back on the resources that these agencies need to get the job done.
I am especially interested in hearing from the FDA and the BATF as to whether they have adequate field and laboratory personnel and sufficient testing equipment to monitor the ingredients of alcoholic beverages and act swiftly and thoroughly when it comes to light that any beverages containing these unauthorized ingredients would be on the market for public consumption in the United States.
Again, Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank you for allowing me to participate in these hearings.
Mr. BARNARD. Thank you, sir.
Our first witness today will be Mr. Hugh J. Wessinger, Senior Associate Director of Resources, Community and Economic Division.
Mr. Wessinger, if you will take the witness stand. We welcome you to these hearings today. We appreciate the study that the GAO has done and we are delighted to have you with us to report on your study. Would you care to introduce your two associates with you today. STATEMENT OF HUGH J. WESSINGER, SENIOR ASSOCIATE DIREC
TOR, RESOURCES, COMMUNITY, AND ECONOMIC DEVELOP. MENT DIVISION, GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE, ACCOMPANIED BY KEVIN DONOHUE, GROUP DIRECTOR, AND RALPH DOMENICK, ASSIGNMENT MANAGER Mr. WESSINGER. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. We are pleased to be here today.
On my left is Mr. Kevin Donohue, Group Director, who works in the environmental area on pesticides and was largely responsible for the report that we will discuss with you today.
On my right is Mr. Ralph Domenick, Assignment Manager, also who works heavily in the pesticides area and is quite an expert in
Mr. BARNARD. Thank you, gentlemen, we welcome you to these hearings today.
Mr. Wessinger, as is customary, your entire testimony will be included in the record, and you may summarize as you so desire. But I have a request to make of you, and that is that you would include in your oral testimony today appendix 4. It is a very, very telling testimony, and I think your including it will probably eliminate some of the questioning that some members of the committee might have on your study. So if you would, when you get to that point, I think it is only about another 8 minutes-go ahead and include that in your oral testimony, it would be appreciated.
Mr. WESSINGER. I would be glad to do so.
Mr. WESSINGER. As I said I am pleased to be here today to discuss our recent report on Federal agency actions in dealing with imported wines contaminated with the industrial chemical, diethylene glycol, which I will refer to as DEG. DEG is a highly toxic substance used in a number of industrial applications, including uses as a component and solvent in antifreeze and automotive brake fluids.
Last October Congressman Frank Horton expressed concern over the contamination of imported wines and asked us to review the manner and extent of actions taken by the Department of Health and Human Services' Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Treasury's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to identify and halt the sale of wines contaminated with DEG.
Wines containing DEG came to the attention of U.S. authorities through an article in the Washington Post on July 12, 1985, describing West Germany's detection of contaminated Austrian wines. Within a week the Canadian Food and Drug Administration notified the Bureau that it had tested and found some contaminated Austrian wines.
The Austrian Government was initially unable to determine if contaminated wines had been exported to the United States. On July 18, 1985, the Bureau initiated a testing program to try to identify which contaminated wines had entered the U.S. market. Subsequently, the Bureau received information from the Governments of West Germany, the United Kingdom, and Canada, that DEG was also found in some West German and Italian wines. As a result, the Bureau began testing these wines for DEG in August 1985.
What is DEG? As I mentioned, DEG is a highly toxic substance used in a number of industrial applications. In 1937 a pharmaceutical preparation, elixir, containing 72 percent DEG caused more than 100 deaths across the United States.
DEG is illegal in wine and food products at any level. It is a colorless liquid having a sweet taste. DEG has reportedly been used by Austrian winemakers as a sweetening agent since as early as 1979, allowing producers to bypass the more expensive and timeconsuming fermentation process. How DEG got into Italian and West German wines is uncertain.
I will summarize the findings of our report regarding the extent to which the Bureau and FDA test wines for contaminants.
Neither the Bureau nor FDA routinely test wine for the presence of contaminants. FDA is responsible for preventing the importation of adulterated food and beverages. Although FDA tests samples of domestic and imported food products for adulteration, FDA does not usually test imported alcoholic beverages for contaminants, such as DĖG. The Bureau normally samples alcoholic beverages to determine ingredient levels and to verify the accuracy of the labeling under its authority over mislabeled imported alcoholic beverages.
These tests cannot determine the presence of contaminants, such as DEG, since its detection requires a specific test that the Bureau normally does not use. Since the discovery of DEG in Austrian wines, the Bureau started testing for the presence of DEG as part of its regular wine sampling program.
The Bureau began testing Austrian wines for DEG's presence on July 18, 1985, and West German and Italian wines in August 1985. Through December 3, 1985, Bureau testing found 81 different brands of contaminated wines and our report focused on these 81.