A BILL AIMED AT IMPROVING FOOD SAFETY by creating a rapid-response team for emergencies and enhancing research funding was introduced Thursday in the House and Senate. Sponsored by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Rep. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., the measure also would integrate the efforts of the U.S. Department of Agriculture with other federal agencies that handle food safety. The proposed Food Safety Rapid Response Team would prepare an action plan for dealing with food-safety emergencies in coordination with other federal agencies. The bill also proposes creating a National Food Safety Research, Education and Extension Program to fund research into pathogens that threaten human health. No new money would be needed for the programs as the bill redirects existing funds appropriated for the USDA. The Clinton administration backs the proposal and Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said it is consistent with the administration's goals for food safety. The measure was developed by Levin and Stabenow in cooperation with several Michigan associations including the state Cattlemen's Association, Cherry Marketing Institute and Pork Producers Association. "If our families are going to feel safe about the food they eat, we need to establish a plan that arms people with the tools they need to prevent problems before they become health hazards," Stabenow said in a Capitol press conference. "In a global economy, we face new challenges to ensure that all our families feel safe about the food they eat."