NATIONAL MEAT ASSOCIATION h 1970 Broadway, Suite 825, Oakland, CA 94612

(510) 763-1533 Fax (510) 763-6186 h Email Address: [email protected] h http://www.nmaonline.org

Edited by Jeremy Russell
December 21, 2001


MERRY CHRISTMAS!

One of the real joys of the holiday season is the opportunity for us to thank our members. While much has over the past few months, enduring qualities of faith and courage have risen which sustain us. Thank you, all!


USDA MEETING IN WASHINGTON ON Salmonella

NMA's Executive Director Rosemary Mucklow attended a meeting at USDA for the purpose of providing the Department's views on the impact of the decision by the 5th Circuit Ct. of Appeals in Supreme Beef Processors. v. USDA. Held in
Washington on December 19 and chaired by Dr. Elsa Murano, Under Secretary for Food Safety, the meeting included industry organizations and consumer groups.

The meeting was opened by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman who personally greeted all attendees and reassured everyone that USDA would continue to be vigilant in its inspections. She said that the Agency will take enforcement
action against facilities that are not clean and will continue microbial testing. She also said that USDA will rely on good science and is committed to food safety. To this end, she noted her complete confidence in Dr. Murano.

Dr. Murano then reviewed current options. Although the Department cannot remove its inspectors solely based on the third failure of Salmonella Performance Standards, it continues to have the primary elements of the 1996 rule - SSOPs and HACCP. It can continue to use microbial testing for verification and validation. FSIS plans now to follow up a second Salmonella
Performance Standard failure with an IDV review. Acting FSIS Administrator Margaret Glavin then outlined options under consideration by the agency (see page 2).

Several industry representatives commended the Department for convening the meeting and for clearly articulating the USDA's regulatory position. There was repeated mention of the importance of microbial testing and of industry's support. Dr. Murano, in response to a question, said that the government's lawyers are reviewing the legal options and no decision has been made. In response to a question, Dr. Murano said USDA believed the decision applies only to grinders but that the lawyers are looking at it.

Page 2

POSSIBLE AGENCY FOLLOW UP TO SUPREME BEEF DECISION

At a meeting in Washington on Wednesday (see page 1) acting FSIS Administration Margaret Glavin outlined options under consideration by the agency:

Review slaughter plants for generic E. coli testing data and consider better use of data and more verification sampling;
Review the suppliers of grinders to confirm they are meeting generic E. coli testing parameters;
Initiate gathering data to develop a trim baseline;
Establish a "do no harm" standard for grinders to show they are not increasing the level of Salmonella in processing;
Consider "real time" dissemination of Salmonella test results (meaning report it sample by sample). Currently, it is provided in complete 53 sample sets months after the last test.
Publicize completed sample set data.

CONSUMER ACTIVISTS SPEAK OUT

At the Washington meeting on Wednesday, consumer advocates claimed that the appeals court decision in the Supreme Beef suit goes beyond the 1967 law because it allows the Department's seal to be applied to raw meat containing microorganisms that cause disease. They said it is a bad decision for consumers and the industry.

Other consumer advocates suggested there is a "crisis" in food safety, because this President, unlike President Clinton who twice included food safety in nationwide presentations, has not spoken on the issue. They argued that a change in administration should not mean a change in food safety policy. Another suggested USDA was trying to make the best of a bad decision and demanded to know the names of companies that fail the standards. She said she wanted an inspector in ground beef operations continuously, and also to oversee washing/cleaning of equipment, more funding for increased testing, move away from "poke and sniff" inspection and no more "drive by" inspection. Yet another described the Court decision as public betrayal, claiming consumers are now at risk from grossly contaminated food. Yet one more said the decision negated the entire HACCP rule.

Industry representatives responded, noting that food policy did not change with administrations, that meat and poultry is not a big vector of Salmonella (eggs and iguanas are much greater), that the Salmonella performance standards rule as finalized had not been subject to comment in the rulemaking, that meat and poultry is the only food sector mandated to have HACCP and that the industry itself sought this before government took action.

A consumer advocate said that with this decision, the industry just won the right to sell "filthy meat," that the advocates do not have a lot of faith because of the lack of control of disease causing agents in the meat supply, and their best hope is to support legislation to reform the inspection program.

However, Dr. Murano brought the meeting to a close by restating her opening comments: The USDA will continue to be vigilant in carrying out its statutory authority to inspect meat and poultry and will respect the finding of the Court in the Supreme case on how it uses its authority for failure to meet the Salmonella Performance Standards.

Page 3

Salmonella ASSAULT

Shortly after the meeting at USDA (see page 1), leading consumer advocates Carol Tucker Foreman of Consumer Federation of America, Caroline Smith DeWaal of Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and Nancy Donley of STOP held a press briefing at the Capitol to loudly renounce the decision in Supreme Beef v. USDA.

The consumer groups and Democratic legislators were anything but mollified by Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman's announcement that USDA would continue to enforce Salmonella standards, using test results to direct in-depth reviews of food safety systems. Nor were the groups appeased by the USDA's efforts to "conduct a comprehensive review of current food safety regulations and work with interested parties to determine if science-based changes are necessary to strengthen" HACCP, as Secretary Veneman put it in her December 18 statement. No, the CSPI says it will not be satisfied until Congress acts to:

Approve legislation that would give USDA explicit authority to set and enforce standards to control Salmonella and other illness-causing bacteria in the food supply. USDA should be instructed to enforce those standards to the full extent of its authority under the law, including withdrawing federal inspectors from plants that repeatedly violate pathogen reduction standards.
Approve emergency USDA funding to provide additional inspectors to oversee beef grinding operations, to increase Salmonella testing in slaughter and processing plants, and to reevaluate existing HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) systems in meat and poultry processing plants.

The first of these two measures would give USDA statutory authority to enforce its Salmonella Performance Standard and other microbial standards as though they measured something that the plant had done or could do something about. Instead it would seem more effective to regulate based on food safety goals. The second would appear to be an attempt to arbitrarily single out
beef grinders simply because it was a beef grinder, Supreme Beef Processors, that took a stand against standards that many were pointing to as arbitrary and unscientific. It will be a sad day if retaliation of this nature is codified in law.

In support of these proposals, Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) joined to seek changes to meat inspection laws. Clinton and Durbin, joined former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman and the consumer groups in mounting their massive press campaign December 19 in Washington, DC.

At the press conference, Clinton spoke of her time as a "slimer" at a fish factory in Alaska 32 years ago and Glickman noted his personal link to the Supreme Beef case, which persuaded him to speak about it. The case was brought while he was still Secretary of Agriculture and he has subsequently associated with the law firm that provided pro bono assistance to the
consumer groups in filing their amici to the defendant, USDA.

Statements by the groups and by Senators Durbin and Harkin are available from NMA on request.

Page 4

GROUND BEEF STILL TOPS POPULARITY LIST AT SUPERMARKETS

An article in the December issue of Supermarket Business states that, of the latest AC Nielsen study of the Top 50 perishables in the supermarket, ground beef and bananas remain at the top of the list as the most popular, random weight products in the supermarket in terms of traffic draw and sales. For the 52 weeks ended December 31, Bulk Ground Beef sales totaled $3.861
billion. The meat department had 4 of the top 10 items on the list.

NATIONAL MEAT ASSOCIATION

NMA - East: 1400 - 16th St. N.W., Suite 400, Washington D.C. 20036 Ph. (202) 667-2108

NMA - West: 1970 Broadway, Suite 825, Oakland, CA 94612 Ph. (510) 763-1533 Fax (510) 763-6186

Edited by Jeremy Russell
December 21, 2001


FARM BILL DEAD FOR NOW

Democrats failed to limit Farm Bill debate through cloture for a third time. "This will be the third cloture vote and the last cloture vote," Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) said before the vote. "Senators must make up their minds. If they want to kill the bill they will vote against cloture." 60 votes were  needed to invoke cloture, but the motion failed 54-43. This means the bill will not pass before the end of the year.

HACCP REG FOR RENDERERS

FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) is developing a mandatory HACCP regulation for manufacturers of rendered products, such as animal and vegetable proteins in animal feed. It hopes to develop a pilot program with two firms, reports Food Chemical News Daily. The regulation was listed December 3 as a "long-term action" in the Department of Health and Human
Services' semi-annual regulatory agenda, reports Food Chemical News Daily.

DEFENDING THE BORDERS FROM BSE

FDA says its enforcement of a ban on byproducts from countries known to have Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) has been successful. Officials have stopped 48 shipments generally classified as animal byproducts at the borders since the federal government imposed a ban on them, Stephen Sundlof, director of FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, told Food Chemical News Daily December 11. But the materials in almost all of those shipments are perfectly legal to have in the United States, he said. The shipments contained product codes that generally described the contents as animal byproducts, but many of those shipments were products such as pig ears meant for pet food and animal feed additives that were plant material, he said.
CVM is considering proposing changes to strengthen the ban and expects to publish an advance notice of proposed rulemaking early next year, he said.

FSIS: COMMENTERS TO BE LISTED ONLINE

FSIS will now provide an online list of commenters to Federal Register notices with comment periods. The intent is to eventually provide a link to the actual comments submitted. Initially, the lists will be placed on the both the OPPDE "What's New" page and at the appropriate FSIS Federal Register publications page.

NACMCF'S NEW WEB PRESENCE

A home page has been established on the FSIS web site for the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF). The NACMCF provides assistance in the development of microbiological criteria, the review and evaluation of epidemiological and risk assessment data, and methodologies for assessing microbiological hazards in foods.  Access the
NACMCF home page at: www.fsis.usda.gov/OPHS/nacmcf/index.htm

Page 2

INS PURSUES INDUSTRY ILLEGALS

Two executives and four former managers from Tyson Foods, Inc. have been indicted on charges of conspiracy to smuggling illegal workers, the Justice Department announced this week. The 36-count indictment, unsealed in federal court in Tennessee, stems from a 2-1/2 year undercover investigation by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) into Tyson's business
practices. This time last year, INS raided a Nebraska plant, arresting undocumented workers and charging officials there with similar charges as those now lodged against Tyson officials. At that time, Jerry Heinaur, director of the Nebraska-Iowa INS field office, told the Associated Press that "[INS's] priority was to arrest the mid-level managers involved." The same appears to be true in the Tyson case. Tyson denied the charges, saying they "are limited to a few managers who were acting outside of company policy at five of our 57 poultry processing plants."

However, the Justice Department says that 15 Tyson plants in nine states have been implicated in the conspiracy in which workers allegedly were imported and transported from the Southwest border.

In filing against Tyson, which is now the owner of IBP, the Justice Department alleged the cultivation of a corporate culture in which the hiring of illegal alien workers was condoned to meet production goals and to cut costs to maximize profits. "The bottom line on the corporate balance sheet is no excuse for criminal conduct," commented Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff. It certainly appears that meat and poultry industry employment practices are under priority scrutiny at the Justice Department.

James Ziglar, commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which helped investigate the case against Tyson, said the indictments send a message to the business community. "INS means business, and companies, regardless of size, are on notice that INS is committed to enforcing compliance with immigration laws and protecting America's work force," he said.

Tyson's legal predicament is complicated by the fact that U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina placed the company on four years' probation for bribing former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy in the early 1990s.  Under the terms of the probation Tyson Foods could not violate any laws or the terms of the agreement. The Justice Department says that if the court finds Tyson violated the agreement, the punishment could be as extreme as USDA removing its inspectors from Tyson's plants, a move that would essentially shut the company down, Food Chemical News Daily reports.

APHIS ALTERS INTERSTATE SWINE MOVEMENT RULES

USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced plans in the Federal Register December 20 to amend the regulations to establish an alternative to the current requirements for moving swine interstate. Under the new alternative, persons may move swine interstate without meeting individual swine identification and certain other requirements if they move
the swine within a single swine production system. Each such swine production system must sign an agreement with APHIS and involved State governments to monitor the health of animals moving within the system and to facilitate traceback if necessary. APHIS believes this change will facilitate the interstate movement of swine while continuing to provide protection against the interstate spread of swine diseases. The change will be effective January 22. For further information contact Dr. Arnold Taft,
Senior Staff Veterinarian, at (301) 734-4916.