The American Meat Institute believes that the Meat and Poultry Pathogen Reduction Act of 2003 is a well-intentioned, but misguided bill that makes a food safety promise it cannot deliver.
Food safety initiatives are only as good as the degree to which they protect people from illnesses. Recognizing this fact, a recent National Academy of Sciences report said that microbiological performance standards should be based on comprehensive data and tied to public health objectives.
Ironically, the bill would give the secretary of Agriculture authority she already has to establish microbiological performance standards. Indeed, many such standards already exist, and although a federal appellate court found that a violation of one particular standard did not mean that a meat plant was unsanitary, the decision did not affect or even challenge USDA’s authority to promulgate the standard. It remains in place and is used by USDA to evaluate meat plants’ food safety performance.
Contrary to assertions of the bill’s sponsors, USDA possesses the authority to enforce basic sanitation regulations governing meat processing, and when it has been warranted, has shut down plants that were deemed unsanitary.
Finally, the bill’s sponsors cite the recent NAS study as evidence of a rationale for this bill’s requirement of microbial performance standards. AMI supports the concept of performance standards but believes, as the NAS report recommended, that performance standards must be based on accurate scientific data and relevant to a public health outcome. Science -- not Congress -- should set the standards.
“The fact is, foodborne illnesses associated with meat and poultry are down by 21 percent since 1996. The incidence of bacteria found on raw meat and poultry has also been reduced dramatically. The industry’s investment in implementing food safety technologies, coupled with the effective federal meat inspection system already in place, have combined to enhance, not diminish food safety.
Comments by the bill’s sponsors suggest that they don’t understand one irrefutable fact: producing safe food and protecting consumers is good for our customers and good for our businesses. We think it inappropriate to offer or to settle for political solutions to scientific problems.