When politics come before science, it’s called political science. When science comes before politics, it’s called good public policy. Today, Sen. Tom Harkin introduced legislation that seeks to preempt scientific recommendations from two leading government bodies about what direction the U.S. government should take in regulating food safety using microbiological performance standards.
The U.S. meat and poultry industry believes it’s time to stop the political gamesmanship that is dominating food safety policy and commit ourselves to good public policy. Sen. Harkin’s bill is a political effort to legislate what science and the judicial system do not support and what Congress has rejected twice before.
Two courts have ruled that a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) microbiological testing standard could not be used to determine if a plant was sanitary. The court allowed USDA to continue taking the test, which it is doing. Today that test is used to evaluate the plant in its entirety, but the test alone cannot be used to close the plant because the test is not a measure of sanitation. In fact, using the test to deem a plant insanitary is like using SAT scores alone to evaluate a student’s future potential. The information needs to be used in a larger context, and that is precisely how USDA is now using the Salmonella Performance Standard.
Today, the Agriculture Department retains more authority to take action against a plant (including stopping production or closing a plant) than any other regulatory agency regulating any other industry.
The U.S. meat and poultry industry urges Congress to await the findings of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods, which will make recommendations on this very issue this year. Sen. Harkin’s effort to move ahead before these scientific bodies have released their findings calls into question the scientific underpinnings of his legislation and places a political spotlight on his effort.
AMI represents the interests of packers and processors of beef, pork, lamb, veal and turkey products and their suppliers throughout North America. Together, AMI's members produce 95 percent of the beef, pork, lamb and veal products and 70 percent of the turkey products in the U.S. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute provides legislative, regulatory, public relations, technical, scientific and educational services to the industry. Its affiliate, the AMI Foundation, is a separate 501(c)3 organization that conducts research, education and information projects for the industry.