NATIONAL MEAT ASSOCIATION h 1970 Broadway, Suite 825, Oakland, CA 94612
Edited by Jeremy Russell and Kiran Kernellu
July 15, 2002
FSIS efforts to improve HACCP oversight functions have been used by the press to ridicule the inspection process on more than one occasion in the past. Just think of the way reports on progress in the HACCP Inspection Models Project (HIMP) have been turned against the Agency despite consistent reductions in pathogen numbers. Nevertheless the recent attacks prompted by the leaking of a Draft Government Accountability Office (GAO) seem especially insulting. Press reports have taken the GAO Draft report and made it into an account of how USDA is “poorly designed, badly supervised and riddles with problems,” as the New York Times put it in its article “Federal Audit Faults Department’s Meat and Poultry Inspection System.” What the report actually details are the difficulties that the Agency has had in properly positioning resources and personnel in its long slow “paradigm shift” from old school inspection to a shiny new HACCP system, darling of all. Furthermore, a large portion of the GAO report is dedicated to the findings of the Food Safety Systems Correlation (FSSC) team, the overall purpose of which “is to enhance and improve the effectiveness of inspection verification activities, and to assist the establishment in improving its food safety systems,” in the words of Don Smart, Director of the Review Division at the Technical Service Center in Omaha, Nebraska. Basically, the FSSC has been visiting plants “to gather information on the range of practices that exist among inspection personnel and with industry.” That the FSSC has pinpointed problems with inspection and plant implementation of HACCP only shows that it is doing its job. No one ever said it was going to be easy to make HACCP a reality for the thousands of companies in the United States with grants of meat inspection, in fact quite the opposite. Transitions as large as this take time and go in stages. We are only now coming to the end of the first stage and the FSSC’s role has been to find the problems and point the direction for future improvements. “Our plan is to visit each District with the Food Safety Systems Correlation Team,” said Smart. “Once we’ve had a chance to visit every District, we’ll start over again, because the need for correlation is everchanging, and is critical for continuous improvement.”
Much of the rest of the GAO report discusses FSIS’s failure to follow up on results of the Salmonella Performance Standard. These delays are easily understood when the fact that the standard has been severely questioned since before it was implemented and was almost immediately shot down in court as an inappropriate measurement of plant sanitation.
None of this is to suggest that the GAO report is without merit. When it says that meat inspectors suffer from a lack of training it is only repeating the criticism the industry has long voiced. And when it says IDV teams have found deficiencies not documented by in-plant inspections, it is only showing where a lack of training is bound to lead. Perhaps this is an appropriate time to mention those many deficiencies documented by in-plant inspectors, which later proved to be groundless.
When the GAO report notes that “of course, the amount of time needed to asses all HACCP plans would decrease if the number of [Consumer Safety Officers (CSO’s)] increased,” it is only encapsulating what should be obvious. HACCP is still settling out and no one should be shocked to find it in a state of turbulence. The amount of time needed for the system to be perfected could be decreased by an application of effective support, guidance and thoughtful and constructive criticism.
The New York Times, although clearly unable to resist the urge to paint the Agency with a black brush, did say one thing that was right in its article: “The [GAO] will need to review its findings with the department before issuing a final report.”
According to Michelle Torno, director of nutrition and consumer information at the Minnesota Beef Council, “hospitals use irradiated products because they can’t take the chance with patients.” While irradiation has been shown to save lives by stunting the growth of E. coli and other pathogens in ground beef, USDA unlike the private sector isn’t willing to venture out into the arena of irradiated meat. Meatingplace.com reported that USDA hasn’t dropped its prohibition, excluding irradiated beef from its upcoming purchases of frozen ground beef for the school lunch program. USDA’s purchase specifications state “irradiation of raw materials or finished products will not be allowed as an intervention step.” This despite the fact that suppliers of ground beef to the School Lunch Purchase Program are required to meet strict zero tolerance standards for pathogens. And furthermore, section 4201 (b) (3) of the Farm Bill, signed into law on May 13th, makes it “illegal to prohibit USDA-approved food safety technology on any food purchased for distribution to the federal nutrition program.” Minnesota Department of Agriculture Dairy and Food Division Director Shirley Bohm said “the best way to protect your family is to put up as many barriers as possible against the organisms that cause these illnesses. By choosing irradiated products, you can take advantage of one of the most effective barriers out there.”
While USDA isn’t willing to remove the barrier in its specifications and take a chance on irradiated beef, Minneapolis, MN-based American Dairy Queen, the first national fast-food chain to test frozen irradiated beef patties, is sufficiently satisfied with preliminary results to expand its test market for irradiated hamburgers. Meatingplace.com reported that the company has started serving its irradiated hamburgers in thirty Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area restaurants. By July 17th, 43 Minnesota Dairy Queen restaurants will offer electronically radiated hamburgers. As reported in last week’s edition of Lean Trimmings, Minnesota has taken the lead in this food safety technology. John Malcolm, Minnesota Health Commissioner, “is very pleased to see that the food industry is taking another step forward in introducing irradiated products to the public. By introducing irradiated products – and taking steps to actively promote it – Dairy Queen is setting an example that we hope the rest of the industry will quickly emulate.” Dairy Queen’s gauge shows “positive feedback in the 13 locations…serving the irradiated hamburgers,” said Dean Peters, Dairy Queen’s director of communications. According to Meatingplace.com, Dairy Queen may expand its test to other states if positive customer feedback continues. Peters said expansion “is a possibility. And [they’re] encouraging other foodservice providers to [test irradiated hamburgers], as well. [They] would be willing to band together as a group with other fastfood companies [in this test] because [they] really believe it’s the right thing to do.” (See the June 3, 2002 and July 8, 2002 editions of Lean Trimmings for more on irradiated meat.)
According to a recent article in Food Chemical News, consumer group Center for Food Safety (CFS) is attempting to sway FDA to keep current food labeling rules. The congressional directive in the Farm Bill seeks to revise irradiation labeling, but changes haven’t yet been implemented. CFS would like to “leave ‘irradiation’ somewhere on food labels.” However, CFS spokesman Peter Jenkins said the group’s ultimate goal is a total ban on food irradiation.
The strain of Salmonella found in 47 people in five states earlier this year is resistant to at least nine different antibiotics, reported Medscape. Salmonella is the third most common infecting strain of the 1.4 million annual cases nationwide. Reuters reported that “the CDC found that 46% of the infected individuals said they had eaten raw or undercooked beef before becoming ill.” According to a USA Today article by Eric Schlosser, author of the polemic Fast Food Nation, the CDC concluded that handling or eating the undercooked ground beef had probably spread the disease. About one third of the people had to be hospitalized, and one person died. Reuters further stated that no meat packing plants were identified as the source of the tainted meat, which with proper cooking would not be harmful. As Schlosser, USDA and the meat industry advise, “handle ground beef carefully and cook it well.”
HOMELAND SECURITY DEEMED RISKY
A study conducted by the Brookings Institution concluded that President Bush’s proposal to create a Department of Homeland Security, merge all or part of 22 agencies into a single department, is chancy in that it “merges too many activities into a single department,” reported Ag News. The report stated that “the danger is that top managers will be preoccupied for months, if not years, with getting the reorganization right thus giving insufficient attention to their real job: taking concrete action to counter the terrorist threat at home.”
A recent Wall Street Journal article reported that “buffalo is a hard sell and lots of ranchers are biting the dust.” Though buffalo meat is in surplus, some ranchers are hard pressed to sell their stores and are roaming away from the business. Rancher Dennis L. Quast traded cattle for buffalo eight years ago, and recently auctioned his 450 remaining buffalo for $300 a head, a huge shortfall from the $3,000 per head he paid for them. “It’s a total loss. I’ll probably never go back,” he stated, poised to move to California after renting his North Dakota land to a cattleman. Today buffalo aren’t roaming the plains not because of the excessive hunting which nearly caused their extinction 120 years ago, but because their price has fallen below $300 a head.
Price is a mitigating factor. The Journal reported that “the few consumers who discover buffalo are in for some eye-popping prices.” A pound of buffalo tenderloin can cost up to $15 more than the comparable cut of beef. The expense makes buffalo, a leaner meat than beef, unappetizing to most restaurant chains. School lunch programs can’t afford the $3 a pound that ground buffalo cost, opting instead for ground beef at half the price. At most grocery stores, ground buffalo is about $2 more per pound than ground beef. Compounding the problem of higher prices and the resulting low demand is the fact that the buffalo industry hasn’t marketed its product effectively. The buffalo business was born over a decade ago, but per capita consumption is just under 0.05 pounds per year. Once a staple in early America, buffalo producers aren’t raising the consumer awareness needed in the modern market. According to the National Bison Association, the nation’s 2,400 buffalo ranchers spend virtually nothing on marketing, while the cattle industry spends about $80 million annually on generating consumer awareness. Though the supply of buffalo is sufficient, the demand isn’t, and according to Gary Rhodes, a spokesman for Kroger Co., “the higher price is a sticking point.”
HERD ON THE HILL
The Senate Agricultural Appropriations bill will soon be considered. It appears likely that a Subcommittee markup will be skipped, and the Full Committee will aim to mark up their bill July 24 or 25.
HOUSE AGRICULTURE APPROPRIATIONS
Last Thursday the House Appropriations Committee met to mark up the draft legislation making appropriations for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies for Fiscal Year 2003 (FY 2003). The bill consists of over 2,800 individual requests. FSIS was appropriated $755.8 million, an increase of $40 million over Fiscal Year 2002, but $7 million below the budget request. The Committee has provided the full amount requested for inspection costs, humane slaughter enforcement, and for activities related to the Codex Alimentarius. The Committee also encouraged FSIS to outsource microbiological testing and other activities related to food safety to improve time and budgetary efficiencies.
The FDA was appropriated nearly $1.6 billion. The Committee urged FDA to finalize voluntary labeling guidances for genetically engineered foods and also directed FDA to report updates and developments to the Operational and Administrative System for Import Support (OASIS) system and import tracking. The Committee expressed understanding regarding the delay to initial juice HACCP until the draft guidelines are released, and they requested adequate information sharing regarding the date of publication and the scheduling of regulatory inspections. The Committee urged the FDA and USDA to complete the Listeria risk assessment and revise the action plan, relying solely on scientific data in the policy development process. The Committee expressed interest in the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS), but noted that a report with more information is overdue as of May 1, 2002. The Committee requested a summary of planned, ongoing, or completed case-control studies of bacterial pathogens, such as E.coli O157:H7, Salmonella, Listeria, and Camplyobacter, attributable to meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, fruits, and vegetables before Fiscal Year 2004.
AMS was appropriated $75.7 million, an increase of $291,000 above budget requests. The Committee encouraged USDA to work with stakeholders such as the new Department of Agriculture Fruit and Vegetable Advisory Committee to support the implementation of the Microbiological Data Program. The Committee is seeking to reduce the occurrence of harmful pathogens on fresh produce by certifying microbiological data. The School Lunch Program will receive $6.074 billion; the School Breakfast program will receive $1.66 billion. The Summer Food Service Program has been allocated $334 million, and $1 million will go towards Food Safety Education.
NMA has submitted an editorial in response to Eric Schlosser’s recent article in the July 10 issue of USA Today, "Hamburger with those Fries? Buyers Beware." NMA also submitted a response to the New York Times article entitled “Federal Audit Faults Department’s Meat and Poultry Inspection System.” To read these letters, please visit www.nmaonline.org.
The Institute of Medicine, a division of the National Academy of Sciences, released a report concluding that there is no safe level of trans fat for consumption, reported The New York Times. The Institute urged people to reduce trans fat in their diet as much as possible. To that end, labeling chief of the FDA Christine Lewis Taylor relayed that by this fall or early next spring a final rule requiring the amount of trans fat be listed on product labels should be completed.
Trans fat is currently listed as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (in which liquid oil is turned into a solid) on ingredient labels. According to the article, the harder a margarine or cooking fat, the more trans fat it includes. Trans fat is found in dairy products, pastries and many other foods. Walter C. Willet of Harvard University, researcher of fats in the diet, said that “the sad fact is many people trying to make healthy food choices are often unwittingly eating foods that are high in trans fat because it’s not on the label.” FDA estimates trans fat disclosure on labels would save between 2,000 and 5,600 lives per year, with people then choosing healthier foods or manufacturers leaving out trans fat. Trans fat is directly associated with poor LDL cholesterol and heart disease, consequently the Institute has not stated an upper limit for trans fat in the diet. FDA has no recommended daily value for trans fat, which will have its own separate designation, to put on product labels.
CA LABEL LAW
California Governor Gray Davis signed the Halal Food Bill (AB 1828) into law last week, making it a misdemeanor to sell meat or other foods that are falsely represented as halal or meeting Muslim dietary laws on content and preparation, according to a report in the Contra Costa Times.
Last week the congressional Black Caucus called upon Secretary Veneman to do more to promote the civil rights of black farmers and make certain that they receive agricultural loans as easily as other farmers, according to an article in Ag News. Veneman agreed to meet with a delegation of black farmers last Friday to review their complaints on the contingency that they end a sit-in they held the previous week at a Tennessee USDA office. Charges of discrimination by local Farm Service Agency offices are among the issues to be discussed. The Caucus is disappointed because a $25 million outreach program to help black farmers hasn’t been financed and a deputy in charge of civil rights hasn’t been appointed.
Texas Cattle Feeders Association reported that the beef checkoff partnership with Dunkin’ Donuts will begin its introductory promotion of the “Steak, Eggs and Cheese Bagel” on August 18th. The new product, which will be available until October 12th, is geared towards the “snack” market in Dunkin Donuts’ 3,200 stores nationwide.
FOR THE HEALTH CONSCIOUS AMONG US
The Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer
heart attacks than the British or Americans.
The French eat a lot of fat and also suffer fewer
heart attacks than the British or Americans.
The Japanese drink very little red wine and suffer
fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.
The Italians drink a lot of red wine and also suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.
Eat and drink what you like.
Speaking English is apparently what kills you.