USDA Continues Efforts To Strengthen Food Safety Systems In Testimony Before House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Undersecretary Murano Discusses Bush Administration Record And Food Safety Priorities | USDA Newsroom
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Release No. 0104.02
 
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USDA Office of Communication (202) 720-4623
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USDA CONTINUES EFFORTS TO STRENGTHEN FOOD SAFETY SYSTEMS
In Testimony Before House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Undersecretary Murano Discusses Bush Administration Record and Food Safety Priorities

WASHINGTON, March 14, 2002--The U.S. Department of Agriculture continues to strengthen meat, poultry and egg food safety systems that protect consumers according to testimony today by Elsa Murano, Under Secretary for Food Safety, before the House Agriculture Committee on Appropriations. Murano reaffirmed the Bush Administration's food safety priorities and detailed agency actions that are improving food safety protections for U.S. consumers.

"This Administration continues to strengthen USDA's food safety programs to ensure safe and wholesome meat, poultry and egg products," said Murano. "For two consecutive years, we have proposed record-level spending for food safety programs and strengthened our inspection systems to ensure regulatory compliance and safety. We will continue to examine prudent and sound measures that will further strengthen USDA's food safety programs."

USDA's FY2003 budget request for food safety provides $905 million to fund 7,600 inspectors, veterinarians and other food safety officials who safeguard the nation's meat and poultry supply. It also calls for new spending to strengthen research activities, improve the quality of scientific data on animal disease-based threats to public health, expand risk prevention and management education for small and very small meat, poultry and egg producers; and upgrade the Agency's information and communication systems.

"This budget request takes food safety to the next level," said Murano. "We are serious about protecting public health and we must continue to incorporate proven scientific principles throughout the food safety system to enhance our food safety infrastructure."

Dr. Murano also said that public input is important to advancing food safety protections and announced that USDA will host a series of public symposiums this year on pathogen reduction and microbial testing. Nine forums are scheduled this year, including a two-day food safety and scientific symposium in May, with several others to follow later this year.

"FSIS has the most advanced food safety system in the world and now we must concentrate on enhancing our systems," said Murano. "These forums will set the stage for what we hope to be a long-term dialogue with academia, consumers and industry to share their expertise on the future direction of these important issues."

During her testimony, Dr. Murano also highlighted statistics that continue to show improvement in food safety. This includes Salmonella testing data that shows that the prevalence of this pathogen has significantly decreased in all product categories, including turkey. As well, data from the Centers for Disease Control show significant reductions in foodborne illness, which CDC has stated are likely due to implementation of the rule.

Dr. Murano also outlined additional steps to strengthen food safety programs, including:

Performance Standards : After a court decision in December 2001, on the use of performance standards, USDA said it would continue to test for Salmonella in plants and shut down those plants that do not meet food safety requirements. In addition, USDA is conducting a comprehensive review of current food safety regulations to determine science-based changes that may be necessary to strengthen the meat inspection system. USDA is expediting the placement of 75 new Consumer Safety Officers to review plants' safety plans and is enhancing training for inspectors to ensure full compliance with new food safety laws. As mentioned above, public forums will be held to gain input from interested parties and a review of research being examined by the National Academy of Sciences is being expedited.

Homeland Security: In wake of September 11 and potential threats to the nation's food supply, the Administration has acted to strengthen food protection programs. As part of the $328 million Defense Appropriations Supplemental, USDA is spending an additional $15 million to bolster food safety protections. Additional resources will be provided to strengthen USDA's foreign meat inspection program, enhance laboratory systems and research. USDA has formed several homeland security teams to specifically examine ways to strengthen protections against intentional threats to the food supply.

Protections Against BSE: In November USDA released a landmark study conducted by Harvard University that showed the risk of BSE entering the U.S. as very low. Even so, the USDA announced several actions to strengthen protection systems, including doubling the number of BSE tests, publishing a policy options paper outlining additional regulatory actions that may be taken to reduce potential risks, developing a proposed rule to prohibit the use of certain stunning devices used to immobilize cattle during slaughter, and publishing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) to consider additional regulatory options for the disposal of dead stock on farms and ranches. The FY 2002 budget includes $13 million for additional BSE surveillance, research and laboratory activities.

Additional Inspection Personnel: New inspection positions have been added to improve FSIS' capacity to detect and prevent food safety problems. In addition, supplementary education and specialized training will be provided for existing FSIS inspection personnel. FSIS has hired 17 District Veterinary Medical Specialists (DVMS). These new positions will ensure that all plants, regardless of size, appropriately address their humane handling responsibilities and other slaughter issues. Additionally, FSIS is training 75 Consumer Safety Officers (CSOs) to conduct on-site food safety and other consumer protection assessments in meat and poultry establishments, and make determinations about the scientific efficacy of a plant's HACCP operating plan.

For more information on food safety issues, visit http://www.fsis.usda.gov

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