A View From ‘The Hill’
by Lynn Petrak, Special Projects Editor
Food safety remains on the front burner in Washington, D.C., as the meat and allied industries continue strengthening their efforts to create safer meat and poultry products.
If politics "as usual" means a mix of emerging regulatory issues, ongoing interim rules, and a coming and going of leadership, then the current climate Washington, D.C. is about what can be expected.
There are some noteworthy topics of interest to the nation’s meat and poultry processors:
• Ann Veneman left her post as Secretary of Agriculture after the second-term inauguration of President George W. Bush. Mike Johnanns was sworn in as the 28th secretary of the USDA on January 21. Born in Iowa and raised on his family’s dairy farm, Secretary Johanns has described himself as “a farmer’s son with an intense passion for agriculture.”
• Animal identification and ultimately, product traceability, are now a topic of debate on Capitol Hill. Two bills were recently introduced by Rep. Collin Peterson (D, MN) to Congress pertaining to animal identification. H.R. 1254 would require the establishment of a national electronic livestock identification system, while H.R. 1256 would limit the disclosure of certain animal identification information.
• Related to identification is concern over bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). In his FY2006 budget, President Bush included a $7.3 million increase in funding for research on BSE, a 155 percent increase over last year. BSE made news in other ways, as well — in early March, a U.S. District Court for the district of Montana issued a temporary injunction regarding USDA’s “minimal risk” rule, which sought to re-establish trade with Canada for live cattle less than 30 months of age.
• Listeria remains a hot-button issue. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is soliciting comments and scientific data until May 3 to evaluate the provisions of the 2001 Food Code that address preventive controls for Listeria monocytogenes in retail and foodservice establishments. Meanwhile, the government has insisted that the 2003 interim final rule from FSIS on the control of Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat (RTE) meat and poultry products has been effective. In a January statement, acting USDA undersecretary for food safety Merle Pierson remarked: "The results have been remarkable. The number of Listeria monocytogenes recalls fell from forty in 2002 to fourteen in 2003, and there has not been a large Listeria monocytogenes recall in more than two years.”
• In early 2004, FSIS announced the establishment of a new division that will be part of the Food Emergency Response Network (FERN) created to respond to food-related emergencies and to help manage the nation’s ability to detect and deal with biological, chemical, and radiological agents in the food supply.