August 19, 1997
The Honorable Dan Glickman, Secretary
Department of Agriculture
Washington, DC 20250
Dear Secretary Glickman:
National Meat Association shares your concerns with respect to the recent cluster of illnesses in Colorado, one of which has been directly linked by DNA-type testing to hamburger patties produced at a Nebraska firm, and others with strong epidemiological links to the same source. One illness a year attributable to E.coli 0157:H7, whatever the vector, is one too many.
Meat industry processors have made, and continue to make, improvements to try to ensure the destruction of this deadly pathogen. Unfortunately, as you know, the only truly effective destructive mechanism is cooking. It is therefore equally important, just as processors are implementing preventive strategies such as HACCP, process control testing, and pathogen reduction interventions, that food distributors and handlers, including those who shop for families, handle product safely and prevent cross contamination during its final preparation and cook at temperatures that will ensure destruction.
We were dismayed at press reports in which you were quoted as suggesting that the meat industry practices are unresponsive to protecting the public health. The meat industry has taken a leading role in reducing the risk of this bacterial illness. As Secretary of Agriculture we urge you to recognize the substantial efforts made by the industry and the agency to meet their responsibilities under law, rather than to suggest a "SWAT team" approach that more resembles traditional inspection modes that are now considered history. Since the entire food and beverage industry from apple juice to radish sprouts deal with this pervasive microorganism, it is important that the meat and poultry industry not be victimized with discriminatory harshness by the very agency that provides regulatory oversight of its daily activities.
The meat industry in general, and the members of National Meat Association in particular, have worked with your Department and want to continue to do so to assure high standards for the processing of meat. We have continually sought to cooperate with your officials to this end to implement changes to improve the system in a meaningful way and we will continue to do this. We hope that you will not use this instance to abuse an industry which has made and continues to make powerful efforts to meet the goals we share with you to provide safe and wholesome meat for American consumers.
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