The title of today’s National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report reflects a position that the meat and poultry industry has held for years: that U.S. Food Safety Standards Should be More Clearly Linked to Public Health Outcomes.
It is the industry’s view that the U.S. food regulatory system should be based upon an assessment of risk posed by all foods and that resources should be applied where they can make the most difference in reducing risk.
NAS indicated that performance standards are a useful “score card” for measuring process control by food processors, but they do not necessarily reflect the true potential for foodborne illness. The meat and poultry industry currently is regulated by a number of performance standards, including “zero tolerance” for E. coli O157:H7 in raw ground beef, “zero tolerance” for any pathogenic bacteria on ready-to-eat meat and poultry products including Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella, and many other performance standards. AMI believes that performance standards are indeed useful tools or “score cards” so long as they are developed based upon science and comprehensive data and so long as they will truly enhance public health outcomes as measured by appropriate epidemiological surveillance data.
Just last week, USDA released “score card” data showing that Salmonella are decreasing on most meat and poultry products. Data released by the Centers for Disease Control also show that the U.S. is making substantial progress in meeting National Health Objectives for 2010. In fact, targets for Listeria monocytogenes and Campylobacter have very nearly been achieved years ahead of schedule.
In its report today, NAS highlighted the Salmonella performance standard that USDA erroneously used to determine if a plant was sanitary. Under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, when USDA determines that a plant is not sanitary, it can withdraw inspection, which closes a plant. A federal court in 2000 determined that while USDA had the authority to develop a Salmonella performance standard, it could NOT use it to measure sanitation because the science does not support such action. We agree with NAS’ observation that testing for Salmonella can provide useful information to monitor a plant’s production process, but those tests do not relate to foodborne illness because people rarely contract salmonellosis from beef.
Existing laws prohibit the sale and distribution of adulterated products. Because USDA currently develops and enforces a host of performance standards, it is our view that additional statutory authority is not needed and would be redundant.