The Bush administration is to seek a record US$797m in the fiscal 2004 budget for the Agriculture Department’s food safety programmes, up $42m from last year’s request.

Democrats and consumer groups in the US have criticised the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) over its food safety policies following last summer’s massive meat recalls involving some of the country’s largest meat processing companies.

“We’re looking and learning from the experience we had from those meat plants,” Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman told Reuters in an interview. “We are looking at how we can better strengthen our system. The President feels very strongly about food safety.”

Veneman said the extra funding would help pay for 7,680 food safety inspectors, increased testing and sampling for food-borne pathogens at meat plants, as well as boosting the amount of foot-and-mouth disease vaccines available.