NEW YORK, Nov. 19 (UPI) -- More should be done to protect the nation's centralized and "much too vulnerable" food supply, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday during a town meeting at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
"We know terrorists have taken advantage of our interdependent systems like air travel and the postal system," said Clinton, D-N.Y. "Clearly, the same is true with our highly centralized food supply."
"The issue has been around for years but nobody made it a top priority," she said.
Food safety was the primary focus of the forum attended by about 300 elected officials, emergency service workers, students and faculty experts.
"A terrorist need only introduce a pathogen at one point in the process and our highly mechanized and efficient production and distribution practices can spread that contaminated product around the world," according to Clinton.
Clinton said it made no sense for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to regulate meat while another federal agency, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, regulates seafood, fruit, vegetables and other foods.
New York's junior senator wants one federal agency responsible for food safety. Clinton supports federal legislation to spend an extra $500 million to increase food inspectors and allow the FDA to order an immediate recall to prevent contaminated food from spreading.
The lack of affordable housing, the economic downturn and the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks have resulted in an all-time high of nearly 30,000 homeless adults and children in New York City shelters, according to a report by the Coalition for the Homeless.
As a result, New York City food pantries and soup kitchens have been overwhelmed.
State government officials, meanwhile, called on a single city agency to oversee all environmental aspects of the cleanup at "Ground Zero." The Ground Zero Elected Officials Task Force want better coordination of air quality testing and that dust be treated as toxic and treated more carefully.
"We need better coordination on the air quality testing because the reporting is confusing," said C. Virginia Fields, Manhattan borough president. All three levels of government have done air quality testing.
The task force also is concerned that buildings in Lower Manhattan have not been properly cleaned and that trucks carrying debris from the site are often left uncovered, releasing dust in their wake.
Also Monday, more money is on the way to help families of city workers killed in the World Trade Center attack. A second round of checks from the Twin Towers fund will be in the mail before Thanksgiving, according to New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. More than half of the families of the more than 400 uniformed city workers lost in the World Trade Center have received checks so far, the mayor said.
According to city officials:
-- 3,357 declared missing by the police
-- 653 confirmed dead
-- 594 bodies identified
-- 1,933 death certificates applications
-- 490,936 tons of rubble removed
-- 106,516 tons of steel removed
-- 597,452 total truckloads of debris removed
-- 44,851 total truckloads
(Reporting by Alex Cukan in Albany, N.Y.)