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AMI President Tells Congress That Meat and Poultry Industry Has Made Great Food Safety Gains and Continues to Progress

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Washington, DC—The meat and poultry industry is continuously working to improve the food safety profile of its products and has made great progress in recent years, according to AMI President and CEO J. Patrick Boyle, who today testified before the House Committee on Agriculture, Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry.

“We all know that food safety has been in the news and because of that publicity a common refrain heard in Washington and other venues is that the U.S. food safety regulatory system is broken and has failed the American people,” Boyle testified.

“Indeed, a great deal of attention has been devoted to what is wrong and the changes needed to assure us that the food we consume is safe.  Although some of the criticism may be warranted, a closer look at our meat and poultry food safety systems yields a different conclusion.” 

Boyle told the Subcommittee that both pathogenic bacteria on meat and poultry products and associated foodborne illnesses have declined markedly in the last decade.  Since 2000, the industry has reduced the prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef by 45 percent to less than one-half percent.  The prevalence of Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat products has been reduced by 74 percent to less than 0.4 percent.  Similar improvements in the incidence of foodborne illness have also been reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  In that regard, since 2000, illnesses caused by E. coli O157:H7 are down by 40 percent and listeriosis is down by 10 percent with much of the improvement occurring before 2000. 

Further, CDC data show that illnesses from pathogens most commonly associated with meat and poultry comprise a fraction of the total foodborne illnesses and deaths in the U.S. 

When it comes to oversight, Boyle said that the meat and poultry industry supports a strong federal inspection system like the one in place at USDA.  He told the committee that the approximately 8,000 employees of USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) inspect approximately 6,300 domestic meat and poultry operations and an additional 2,000 federal employees provide supervision and support services, at a total cost of more than one billion dollars.  Plants processing live animals are inspected during all hours the plant is operating.  Plants that further process meat and poultry products are inspected at least daily.

Boyle also said that the meat and poultry industry has been a strong advocate of a preventative approach and in fact petitioned USDA to mandate Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP ) plans in and meat and poultry plants. That requirement took effect a decade ago and has helped enhance meat and poultry safety.

As part of HACCP programs, records are kept and made available to FSIS inspectors for review and procedures are established to verify that the system is working properly. During the course of a year, FSIS conducts more than 80,000 microbiological tests to verify that federally inspected establishments’ production processes are under control.  FSIS conducts these verification tests in addition to the several million microbiological tests the industry does each year. 

Boyle said that federal law requires that foreign countries exporting to the U.S. must have an inspection system equivalent to the U.S. system.  Thirty-three foreign counties are currently approved to ship products to the U.S.  Meat and poultry products arriving at U.S. borders are also routinely inspected and sampled for laboratory analysis. 

“We have a strong meat and poultry inspection system, but it’s important to recognize only the industry can produce safe food,” Boyle said.  “While food processors and handlers can minimize risks through the use of good management practices, we cannot guarantee with absolute certainty that all food products are free from all risks. But progress continues to be made.”

In concluding his remarks, Boyle detailed actions that the Institute believes will further improve food safety, including:

“It is indisputable that producing safe food is good for customers and good for business,” Boyle concluded. “To that end, the meat and poultry industry has been working to meet the challenge of continuously improving the safety of the products produced.  Industry pledges to cooperate with all parties to ensure that the U.S. maintains the safest meat and poultry supply in the world.”

To view a copy of Boyle’s submitted testimony in its entirety, click here: http://www.meatinstitute.org/ht/a/GetDocumentAction/i/48885

To see the slides that accompany Boyle’s remarks, including relevant charts, go to: http://www.meatinstitute.org/ht/a/GetDocumentAction/i/48924



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