AMI Says Industry Made Progress on Food Safety

GLOBAL - A senior official of the American Meat Institute (AMI) has told the Canadian House of Commons that the US and Canadian meat and poultry industries have made great progress on food safety.
calendar icon 29 May 2009
clock icon 4 minute read

The meat and poultry industry has made great food safety progress in recent years and continues to strive to improve, according to AMI Executive Vice President, James Hodges, who testified on 27 May before the Canadian House of Commons Subcommittee on Food Safety of the Standing Committee of Agriculture and Agri-Food. The subcommittee was formed to review food safety programs following a listeriosis outbreak in Canada last year.

"A common refrain heard in Washington, Ottawa and other venues is that our food safety regulatory systems are broken," Mr Hodges testified. "Although some criticism may be warranted, a closer look at our meat and poultry food safety systems, at least from a US perspective, yields a different conclusion," he said.

Mr Hodges told the Subcommittee that illnesses associated with meat and poultry consumption have declined, with nearly one billion meals being consumed each day in the United States without incident.

When it comes to oversight, Mr Hodges said that the meat and poultry industry supports and incorporates a strong federal inspection system. Approximately 8,000 employees of USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) inspect approximately 6,300 domestic meat and poultry operations and an additional 2,000 federal employees provide supervision and support services, at a total cost of more than one billion dollars.

Mr Hodges added that federal law requires a foreign country's inspection system to be equivalent to the US system. Currently, 33 countries, including Canada, the United States' largest trading partner, are approved to ship products to the US.

He also noted that the meat and poultry industry has been a strong advocate of a preventative approach and in fact petitioned USDA to mandate Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP ) plans in and meat and poultry plants. That requirement took effect a decade ago and has helped enhance meat and poultry safety.

"Both Canada and the US have strong federal meat and poultry inspection systems but it is important to recognise only the industry can produce safe food," Mr Hodges said. "Although food processors and handlers can and must minimise risks, there can be no absolute certainty that all food products are free from all risks. Notwithstanding that caveat, progress has and is being made."

Specifically, US government data show a decline in pathogen prevalence on meat and poultry products. Since 2000, the industry has reduced the prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef by 45 per cent to less than one-half percent. The prevalence of Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat meat and poultry products has been reduced by 74 per cent to less than 0.4 per cent. The Centers for Disease Control has reported by similar progress in reducing foodborne illnesses. Since 2000, illnesses caused by E. coli O157:H7 are down by 40 per cent and listeriosis is down by 10 per cent.

Mr Hodges offered a number of suggestions to further improve food safety. "Science and scientific facts should be the foundation for establishing a food safety system that has public health protection as its goal. Government has the responsibility to set food safety standards that provide an appropriate level of public health protection.

"Industry has a responsibility to produce safe food that meet or exceed government food safety standards. Caution should be exercised, however, that government food safety standards do not stifle innovation and continuous improvement by being overly prescriptive in defining how food safety goals should be met," Mr Hodges said.

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