A bill that would give the Food and Drug Administration increased power to prevent pathogen-related outbreaks may be blocked by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) until the Democrat party finds a way to pay for it. Coburn said this week that the bill adds to the federal deficit and expands the power of a troubled agency, reports the Associated Press.

Coburn's office said Wednesday the senator will object to bringing up the bill if his concerns aren't addressed.

"Without paying for this bill, at best we are just passing it for a press release, and at worst, we shackle the FDA with unfunded mandates," his office said in a statement on his website.

The legislation, if passed, would give the FDA more power to recall tainted products, require more inspections of food-processing facilities and require producers to follow stricter guidelines to keep food safe. Currently, the agency can only negotiate recalls with the food company in question and rarely inspects facilities. The two Iowa farms that were at the heart of a massive recall of tainted eggs, for instance, had never been inspected until after the recall, where inspectors found rodents, seeping manure and maggots on the premises.

Democrats say the legislation is a policy measure and would not immediately add to the deficit. They say the bill would be paid for in annual spending bills. Justine Sessions, spokeswoman for Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, the Democratic chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said Coburn should bring up his concerns on the Senate floor.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday that he had thought the bill was cleared but there was "still a Republican senator saying no."

"We hope within the next 24 hours he will say yes," Reid said. "That's where we are."

Source: Associated Press, FloridaToday.com

Vilsack meets with NCBA producers

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack addressed U.S. cattle producers from across the country in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 15, 2010 as part of the 2010 National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Legislative Conference. Secretary Vilsack reinforced the importance of U.S. agriculture to eradicating global hunger and providing one out of every 12 jobs in the United States. The Secretary quickly illustrated the importance the export marketplace plays in sustaining U.S. agriculture in terms of profitability and jobs. USDA projects a $31 billion trade surplus next year, compared to a current $27 billion surplus. He said every $1 billion in surplus is equivalent to 8,000 to 9,000 jobs. Secretary Vilsack said many new opportunities for U.S. exports need to be identified and existing trade barriers need to be resolved.

“We (USDA) are focused on developing new markets, especially where the middleclass population is expanding. “We also need to break down unscientific trade barriers,” he said. “We also need to finalize these pending free trade agreements (Colombia, South Korea and Panama). “Hopefully, South Korea will be approved quickly.”

Many cattle producers expressed concern to the Secretary about the fact that less than 16 legislative days are left on the Congressional calendar until the estate tax reverts back to its staggering pre-2001 levels. If Congress doesn’t act, starting Jan. 1, 2011, farm estates worth $1 million will be taxed at a rate of 55 percent.

“We have to make sure the vast majority of agriculture is not impacted by the estate tax,” said Secretary Vilsack. “I believe that is the intent of Congress, although they haven’t done it yet. We will continue to push for that.”

The issue of unprecedented environmental regulations on dust proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was also an issue of concern for cattle producers. The Secretary said he accepts full responsibility for USDA but can’t speak for EPA. He said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is doing a tour of rural America and meeting with producers at his request.

“I told her you’ve got to get out and talk to producers. A lot of folks in this town have never been on a farm but assume they know the impact of regulations on agriculture. They really don’t know… They have to get out in the country,” said Secretary Vilsack. “They have to visit farms and ranches to understand modern agriculture. They have to make decisions that make sense.”

Perhaps the boldest statements made by the Secretary were in regards to antibiotics. The Food and Drug Administration's draft guidance document, The Judicious Use of Medically Important Antimicrobial Drugs in Food-Producing Animals, concerns cattle producers due to the lack of science. Cattle producers also expressed concerns over U.S. Representative Louise Slaughter’s (D-NY) Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), which would phase out the use of some antibiotics in the livestock industry. The Secretary also expressed concerns.

“I’ve communicated to Rep. Slaughter, my support of the judicious use of antibiotics. The vast majority of producers do not abuse the use of antibiotics in livestock production. I told her you cannot ban this. It doesn’t make sense,” Secretary Visack said. “USDA's public position is, and always has been, that antibiotics need to be used judiciously and we believe they already are.”

Source: NCBA

Russian exports from two Smithfield plants halted

Russia has put a temporary halt to pork imports from two U.S. plants as well as producers in several other countries due to concerns about antibiotics in the meat. Yevgeniy Khorishko, press secretary for Russia's U.S. embassy, said the two U.S. plants are owned by Smithfield Foods Inc., reports Dow Jones newswires.

Russia found "excessive presence of antibiotics" in pork produced at the plants, both in the U.S. and in France, Germany, Holland, Spain and elsewhere, Khorishko said.

Source: Dow Jones Newswire

National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection to hold public meeting

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced that the National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection (NACMPI) will hold a public meeting on Sept. 29-30, 2010, to review and discuss issues relating to data collection, analysis, response, and transparency, and strengthening policy and collaboration in pre-harvest food safety.

The NACMPI public meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010 from 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday, Sept. 30 from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the South Building Cafeteria, USDA, 14th & Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. As part of the public meeting, subcommittees of the NACMPI will hold open meetings during their deliberations and report preparation. A complete agenda, registration, and documents relating to the meeting are available at www.fsis.usda.gov/about_fsis/nacmpi/index.asp.

Source: FSIS

FSIS' Engeljohn to speak at E. coli conference

The North American Meat Processors Association announced that Dr. Dan Engeljohn, Assistant Administrator for the FSIS Office of Policy and Program Development, will address attendees on the topic of HACCP Systems Validation at the upcoming “Prevention OfE. coli0157:H7 For Beef Further Processors - A Conference For The North American Industry.” The conference is Sept. 28-29 at the Four Points by Sheraton at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

Dr. Engeljohn will update participants on the current status of the agency’s draft guidance document, “HACCP Systems Validation” during the morning session on Wednesday, Sept. 29.

The conference is hosted by North American Meat Processors Association (NAMP) with other associations and trade media. Registration information and the full program, which includes an expert line-up of speakers from industry, government, and academia, is at www.namp.com.

Source: NAMP