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AMI Tells Congress Meat and Poultry Industry Is Meeting Challenge of Continuously Improving Food Safety

Thursday, July 16, 2009
 

Washington, D.C.— The meat and poultry industry has been working successfully to meet the challenge of continuously improving the safety of meat and poultry products, according to AMI President and CEO J. Patrick Boyle, who today testified before the House Committee on Agriculture.  

During the hearing, Boyle shared with the Committee some of the significant safety improvements the meat and poultry industry has made and the important role government oversight plays in assuring that the industry meets its responsibility to produce safe food.    

Boyle also noted that the meat and poultry industry has been a strong advocate of a preventative approach and in fact petitioned the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to mandate Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans in meat and poultry plants. That requirement took effect a decade ago and has helped enhance meat and poultry safety. In addition, over the course of a year, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) conducts more than 80,000 microbiological tests to verify those federally inspected establishments’ production processes are under control.  FSIS conducts these verification tests, in addition to the several million microbiological tests the industry performs each year.

“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,” Boyle testified.

Specifically, Boyle said, government data show a decline in pathogen prevalence on meat and poultry products.  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 69 percent to less than 0.5 percent.  We have seen similar improvement in the incidence of foodborne illness reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  In that regard, since 2000, illnesses caused by E. coli O157:H7 are down by 44 percent and listeriosis is slightly down by 3 percent with much greater reductions occurring before 2000.

Boyle also addressed a number of issues related to the current food safety debate, including whether microbiological performance standards are a useful tool. 

“The answer is they can be if properly constructed to achieve a public health objective and if they are scientifically based to measure whether food is safe and not injurious to public health,” Boyle said.  “Conversely, I would suggest that a performance standard based solely on achieving an arbitrary outcome that yields no public health benefit is inappropriate.”

When it comes to enhancing the enforcement powers of the inspection agencies, including civil monetary penalties and other sanctions, Boyle said very severe penalties already are in place. Boyle also addressed the issue of mandatory recalls.

“Calls for mandatory recall ignores a simple fact:  Industry has every incentive to remove contaminated product from the marketplace to reduce potential liability,” Boyle said.  “Experience shows us that the speed with which contaminated meat and poultry product is removed from the market will not improve with mandatory recall.  In most cases, meat and poultry products are recalled within hours after a problem is discovered.  And  FSIS' product detention and retention authority provides significant leverage to compel a voluntary recall."

A final concern Boyle addressed is imposition of a user fee that would be paid by the regulated industry for food safety inspection services.  Similar proposals for meat and poultry inspection at USDA have been rejected by Congress annually for nearly 30 years.

“USDA inspection services have long been paid for with government funds because those inspections are activities that benefit the general public,” Boyle said. “Inspection activities should be funded not from user or registration fees that, in effect, are a food tax, but from monies appropriated out of the general treasury.” 

Boyle also shared with the committee a number of suggestions AMI feels will improve food safety and expressed the industry’s desire to work with Obama Administrations’ White House Food Safety Working Group on implementing effective programs that benefit consumers, the industry, and our public institutions that safeguard the nation's food supply.

“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, but the job is not done.  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/51655.

 To see the slides that accompany Boyle’s remarks, including relevant charts, click here: http://www.meatinstitute.org/ht/a/GetDocumentAction/i/51653.

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