National Meat Association keeps itís members informed about activities on the hill with its newsletter, Herd on the Hill.  Here are some examples of the types of updates NMA members receive on a weekly basis.

FSIS PRE-HARVEST E. COLI O157:H7 SYMPOSIUM

Last week in Washington, DC, FSIS held a Pre-Harvest E. coli O157:H7 Symposium.  This one-day summit follows the continuing trend of expanding communication efforts between USDA, the food industry and consumer groups. While FSIS has no regulatory authority over farms, there is an understanding that research into on-farm pathogen interventions are a necessary aspect of the fight against foodborne illnesses.

The three goals of the symposium were as follows: (1) determine whether interventions available to producers can form the basis for the best management practices to reduce the load of E. coli O157:H7 in livestock before slaughter; (2) recognize promising production interventions and ways to make them available to livestock producers; and (3) determine the research gaps that need additional attention. Input from the symposium will be used as FSIS develops best management practices for animal production facilities. The goal is to decrease the prevalence of E. coli before the pathogen reaches the process management stage. 

The morning session provided background on current interventions being used at animal production facilities. Currently the Animal and Egg Production Food Safety Branch, a section of FSIS, is in charge of the farm portion of the farm-to-table food safety approach. They focus on pre-harvest concerns such as production, transportation, marketing and pre-slaughter preparation. They also encourage research, but as was stressed by Dr. Nathan Bauer, a scientific liaison to FSIS, under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, FSIS does not have the authority to actually conduct research. Multiple people spoke about the current interventions being researched. Though the research is varied it has shown mixed results and one presenter, Dr. Lynda Kelley, FSIS Senior Manager of Research and Technology Transfer, stated that no single intervention strategy reduces E. coli O157:H7 shedding to 0%.  The best chance to lower the amount of shedding is to implement a "multiple hurdle scheme using several complementary intervention strategies."

Many in the afternoon panel echoed this sentiment as well. While there has been interesting research in feed and water additives, housing practices, antibiotic use, vaccines, transgenic feeds and competitive exclusion to name a few, all were in agreement that there is no silver bullet that will solve the problem of E. coli O157:H7. The afternoon panelists presented various stakeholder perspectives ranging from the livestock producer's point of view to the consumers. All agreed that communication is the key.  Whether it is communication with other countries on their intervention techniques, a research option favored by Ms. Caroline Smith-DeWaal of Center for Science in the Public Interest or looking at state animal health programs within the U.S. like the New York State Cattle Health Assurance Program (NYSCHAP), it comes down to the need to share data and research.

During the Q&As, an attendee asked about the development of an E. coli O157:H7 vaccine.  The response was that a vaccine is difficult to design because animals do not develop a natural immunity to E. coli; Canada, however, has been working on a vaccine to target the specific attachment point of the pathogen. This was another example of the type of communication that must begin on an international level. Another participant representing Safe Tables Our Priority (STOP) likened the threat of foodbourne illness to terrorist acts such as the 9/11 tragedy.  Shawna Thomas, NMA's Government Relations Liaison, responded by pointing out that the use of a buzz word like terrorism is a scare-tactic that can hinder the needed communication between industry, consumers and government. She went on to point out that terrorism is not about hurting people, it is about undermining the confidence of an entire population in its government and itself.  Terrorism is about taking control away from
 people. While there have been tragedies related to foodbourne illness, the food industry is not in the business of terrorism.

Though a great deal of discussion focused on interventions that have not worked, the makeup of the participants of the symposium was in itself a step forward. There was a consensus in the room that this important research must be continued in a cooperative way and that FSIS's intervention approval process must be streamlined. NMA members contact Kiran Kernellu at (510) 763-1533 or [email protected] for a copy of the Olsson, Frank and Weeda memorandum summarizing the symposium.

FISCAL YEAR 2004 AGRICULTURE APPROPRIATIONS AND COOL

And they are back. Congress that is, is back in action. After a month-long recess it is time to get back to the work our tax dollars pay them to do.  The most important issue on our congressional radar is the passing of the agriculture appropriations bill in the Senate for Fiscal Year 2004. There is a provision within this bill that does not fund Country of Origin Labeling for meat and meat products in the next fiscal year.  NMA, along with other groups, is working to make sure this provision is not amended out of the Senate version of the appropriations bill, but we need the grassroots support of NMA members to make this happen.  We are challenging our many members to draft letters to their Senators in support of the no funding provision.  Government Relations Liaison Shawna Thomas will help any of our members draft letters and make sure they get to the proper people and offices. Please contact her as soon as possible at [email protected] or (202) 518-6383.

While NMA can provide a constant voice to the powers that be in Washington DC, it is the individual's voice that can make a deeper impact on a specific Senator from a specific state.  The voice of a constituent is also the voice of a voter. Do it! Do it now!

HOUSE COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE HEARING

On Thursday, June 26, 2003, the House Committee on Agriculture held a hearing to review the mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) provision of the 2002 Farm Bill. The USDA is in the process of writing a proposed rule to implement the Farm Bill's requirements. The hearing focused on the feasibility of the law itself, if USDA is deliberately making compliance with the voluntary guidelines currently in place difficult, the benefits and consequences of the law to consumers, and whether the implementation of COOL is contrary to international trade laws. NMA members contact Kiran Kernellu at [email protected] or 510-763-1533 for a copy of the Olsson, Frank and Weeda memo summarizing the hearing. NMA Government Relations Liaison Shawna Thomas provided written testimony on COOL to the House Agriculture Committee, as reported last week in Herd on the Hill. NMA members may contact Kiran Kernellu at [email protected] or 510-763-1533 for a copy of the testimony.

Several representatives expressed concerns about the impact and implementation of COOL. Rep. Max Burns (R-GA) asked when USDA anticipates the proposed rule being available, and Dr. Charles Lambert, Deputy Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, answered that the plan is to release it in September, to be followed by a comment period and economic analysis. Rep. Burns also asked when the rule would be finalized, and Dr. Lambert said the final rule should be released sometime next Spring. Dr. Lambert also commented that USDA is working to develop a high-tech, animal identification system. However, he also remarked that COOL and BSE prevention "are two completely different systems," and that "there is no linkage." Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) also clarified that COOL is specifically a marketing program and not an animal health or food safety program.

An amendment in support of COOL could be introduced when the full House convenes next month. Food Chemical News reported last Monday that Senators Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) are likely to support full funding for COOL.

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