President Obama has announced his intent to nominate Dr. Elisabeth Hagen as the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Under Secretary for Food Safety. Hagen will serve with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

"There is no more fundamental function of government than protecting consumers from harm, which is why food safety is one of USDA's top priorities," said Vilsack. "We can and must do a better job of ensuring the safety of meat and poultry products regulated by USDA, and Dr. Hagen brings the background, skills, and vision to lead USDA's efforts to make sure that Americans have access to a safe and healthy food supply."

Hagen is currently the USDA's chief medical officer, serving as an advisor to USDA mission areas on a wide range of human health issues. Prior to her current post, she was a senior executive at FSIS, where she played a key role in developing and executing the agency's scientific and public health agendas. She has been instrumental in building relationships and fostering coordination with food safety and public health partners at the federal, state, and local level.

Before joining the federal government in 2006, Hagen taught and practiced medicine in both the private and academic sectors, most recently in Washington, DC. She holds an M.D. from Harvard Medical School, and a B.S. from Saint Joseph's University. Dr. Hagen completed her specialty medical training at the University of Texas Southwestern and the University of Pennsylvania, and is board certified in infectious disease. She is married and lives with her husband and two young children in Northern Virginia.

Statements from the meat industry welcomed the news.

“NAMP welcomes Dr. Hagen to the position of Under Secretary for Food Safety,” wrote Phil Kimbal CAE, executive director of the North American Meat Processors Association. “We're looking forward to working with her to ensure our industry remains at the forefront of bringing high quality, safe products to consumers.”

The American Meat Institute similarly lauded the move. “The Under Secretary Food Safety is an extremely important position to the meat and poultry industry and to all American consumers,” said J. Patrick Boyle, AMI president. “We are gratified that a person with Dr. Hagen’s scientific and medical training will lead the agency’s food safety efforts. The meat industry is proud of the progress that we have made in reducing bacteria on both fresh and ready-to-eat meat and poultry products over the last decade. There is still more work to be done, however. We look forward to working with Dr. Hagen and her team so that we may achieve our mutual goal: ensuring the safest meat and poultry supply possible.”

Sources: USDA, NAMP, AMI

Nolan Ryan's Beef names VP of operations

Nolan Ryan’s All-Natural Beef announced Gregory E. Smith has been named vice president of operations. The company has a full line of all-natural fresh beef and other premium beef products including sausage and frozen items. The company is owned by baseball legend Nolan Ryan and fellow ranchers.

In his new role, Smith is responsible for retail supply chain operations. This includes securing supply of raw materials, procurement and inventory of raw materials and products, coordinating with co-packers and other supply partners and leading quality control and food safety programs.

“We are very fortunate to have Greg in this crucial role,” said Nolan Ryan. “He will work with suppliers to make sure our products meet and exceed our customers’ expectations for consistency and quality,” he added. “We’re going to depend on Greg’s retail expertise to build our customer base and help us in our ongoing commitment to premium quality products and service.”

Smith has more than 25 years of experience on the meat side of the food marketing industry with a broad range of experience in sales, management and operations for retail and distribution. Most recently he served as business development manager – meat for HEB’s Central Market division and held positions with Fleming, American Foods Group and Tom Thumb. He will report to CEO Charlie Bradbury.

“Greg’s extensive background enables him to easily understand clients' needs and build relationships. We knew right away he was a perfect fit for this position,” said Bradbury.

Source: Nolan Ryan’s All-Natural Beef

NAMP executive committee talks issues with FSIS officials

The NAMP Executive Committee met last Thursday with leaders from both the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to ask questions and voice concerns on issues affecting NAMP members. The meetings took place at USDA’s South Building in Washington, DC.

“FSIS Administrator Al Almanza welcomed NAMP to USDA and said they valued meeting with the group to hear our questions and concerns,” said a statement from the association. Discussions covered the following topics:

Bench Trim Sampling: This program has started, but FSIS does not see it is a top of the line issue. They said the program was initiated because bench trim was a “loophole” in their current testing program discovered after surveying beef producing establishments in 2007. FSIS plans to pull somewhere around 1,000 bench trim samples per year. At this point, only one sample has tested positive, so the new sampling program has not raised any red flags.

Non-intact steak recall: FSIS gave some information on the recall of non-intact steaks that happened on Dec. 24. The public health investigation is ongoing, although there have not been any new cases since mid-December. The investigation led FSIS to identify a supplier of steaks to a restaurant chain as the likely culprit, although no positive product was ever identified. FSIS said the steaks linked in the investigation were both injected steaks and steaks that were only blade-tenderized. FSIS provided the following lessons surrounding this recall and some other similar recalls:
1. Processors should work to be able to isolate production lots either by limiting suppliers or by robust testing
2. Processors should know their suppliers’ practices for “hot days” (days of higher incidence of positive tests in a supplier’s trim testing program)
3. Processors should utilize product that has been through a sub-primal intervention (and know that not all interventions are created equal)
4. Processors should re-evaluate the process of carrying over from day-to-day intact product stored in bins
5. Processors should make sure their equipment sanitation processes are maintaining a sanitary environment

FSIS Directive on Sanitary Dressing Procedures: FSIS said implementation of this directive has gone smoothly, credited in part to good communication to the inspectors in the field. There have been NRs issued in this area and FSIS thinks the directive has been successful in raising the awareness of events that lead to carcass contamination.

Natural Labeling: FSIS received more than 4,000 comments on the use of the term "natural" on meat labels. They are still reviewing these comments.

Carcass irradiation: This issue is not currently moving forward as FSIS believes the petitioner has several concerns that need to be addressed. The reason carcass irradiation is an issue is because the request is for it to be classified as a processing aid (no labeling requirement). FSIS stated that, because of other recent events, processing aids in general are under greater scrutiny right now.

Source: NAMP

Vermont bill would let HSUS inspect all slaughter operations

A Vermont lawmaker has introduced a bill that would authorize that "An inspector who is a representative of a the humane society of the United States, a Vermont-domiciled humane society, or similar organization approved by rule of the secretary, shall be present to observe a slaughterer, packer, or stockyard operator when engaged in the practice of bleeding or slaughtering livestock."

The Oklahoma Farm Report interviewed Steve Kopperud, who helped found the Animal Agriculture Alliance, who says that "Animal Rights activists may be headed toward an unprecedented power grab in Vermont."

Kopperud, who is now executive vice president of Policy Directions, has been monitoring the activities of animal rights activists for over 20 years and says what groups like HSUS are trying to do in Vermont represents an important turning point in their crusade to enact animal welfare reforms.

The bill would require an inspector to be present to observe a slaughterer, packer or stockyard operator when they are bleeding or slaughtering cattle. The inspector would report any violations of rules to the state secretary, who would in turn issue a temporary injunction against the operator that would bar any further slaughter activities for up to 30 days. Violators would face a fine of less than $5000, imprisonment of less than 90 days, or both.

The state senator who introduced the bill, Democrat Howard Giard, is a small business owner and dairy farmer in Vermont. He is a member of the state agriculture committee.

Source: Oklahoma Farm Report