2017 was a year of change. We transitioned to a new administration and new leadership within the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS, or agency). We said goodbye to Acting Undersecretary for Food Safety and FSIS Administrator Alfred Almanza and Assistant Administrator Dr. Dan Engeljohn, who served at FSIS for decades and provided leadership in their tenure. We welcomed familiar faces including Carmen Rottenberg, Paul Kiecker and Roberta Wagener into these new leadership positions. Change occurred within the industry as well with key retirements, company mergers and new leadership.
What does 2018 have in store for the meat and poultry industry? There is a plethora of issues facing our industry from trade to immigration to recovering from weather events. Below are a few regulatory and legislative issues that may affect the FSIS-regulated industry in 2018.
The FSIS’s 2017-2021 Strategic Plan identified modernization of inspection systems, policies and use of scientific approaches as a mission goal and the agency’s recently published Fiscal Year 2018 Annual Plan reiterates this goal. In June 2017, the agency submitted the proposed rule Modernization of Swine Slaughter Inspection to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review. The proposed rule is still at OMB, but it is expected to be issued soon and have components that closely mirror the Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection rule. It is likely that FSIS and the industry will start looking at ways to improve and modernize other segments of inspection.
Modernization will also encompass scientific methodologies and technologies. FSIS continues to implement changes in its methodologies for chemical compounds and pathogens. Most notably is the increased use of whole-genome sequencing (WGS) in microbial characterization to inform public health decisions. The use and functionality of genome sequencing will only increase throughout 2018. For example, the agency indicates in its Fiscal Year 2018 Annual Plan that it will develop criteria for determining when WGS results, and other data, should be used to trigger Public Health Risk Evaluations and when such information can be used to support enforcement actions in Category 3 poultry establishments.
Pathogens and other contamination
Preventing contamination will continue to be a priority for the agency in 2018. As with 2017, Salmonella reduction will be a focus of the agency in 2018. In addition to refining its strategy for enforcing the Salmonella performance standards in poultry, FSIS intends to formulate an action plan for addressing Salmonella in beef. Furthermore, FSIS will continue its Raw Pork Products Exploratory Sampling Project in intact/non-intact pork cuts and comminuted pork and use data collected to develop industry guidance and/or performance standards.
To address other food-safety issues affecting the industry, it is expected that FSIS will continue to issue guidance material to assist establishments in meeting regulatory expectations. For example, it is anticipated the agency will be issuing guidelines to address foreign-material contamination and establishment procedures for addressing consumer/customer complaints alleging such contamination. The agency is also expected to release updated guidance on how to address Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) in raw beef slaughter and processing facilities.
It is anticipated that several new labeling rules and policies that could affect the meat and poultry industry will be proposed or announced in 2018. The Agricultural Marketing Service is expected to publish a proposed rule to develop a national mandatory system for disclosing the presence of bioengineered material in food. Although many meat and poultry products will be exempted from the law, some processed meat or poultry products that do not contain meat or poultry as the predominant component would have to comply. Furthermore, if a meat and poultry establishment produces FDA-regulated products, the FDA-regulated products would be covered.
FSIS is also expected to publish new policies that govern the labeling of meal kit-type products and protective coverings. Furthermore, the agency is considering conducting surveillance programs to ensure that labeling claims on meat and poultry products, such as nutrient content claims and animal production claims, are not false or misleading.
Health and wellness
Historically, 2018 would be the year the process to develop the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans would begin. Stakeholder listening sessions were held in November 2017 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to elucidate insights regarding the impact of the guidelines and its implementation. There are many questions regarding the next iteration of the guidelines, and we anticipate in 2018 answers to those questions.
2018 could also bring the publication of the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s monograph on red and processed meats. What implications will this publication have on the industry?
In light of the new administration and leadership at FSIS and other agencies, there is no doubt that 2018 will prove to be a very interesting year. Hang on for the ride. NP