A.M.I. responds to N.Y. Times food safety story

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON — Since 2000, the U.S. meat industry has greatly improved the safety of its products, with the incidence of E. coli O157:H7 declining 45% since that year to a rate of less than one-half of 1%. So wrote J. Patrick Boyle, president and chief executive officer of the American Meat Institute, in a letter to the editor published on Oct. 7 in the New York Times.

The Times received Mr. Boyle’s letter in response to what A.M.I. described as "a lengthy one-sided article on ground-beef safety" by investigative reporter Michael Moss published on Oct. 4 ("Woman's Shattered Life Shows Ground Beef Inspection Flaws"). The trade group said that despite a 90 minute, face-to- face interview between Mr. Moss and A.M.I. officials in June and exchanging more than 15 e-mails and phone calls to respond to follow-up questions, the 5,000 word story "excluded all meaningful government data provided regarding the industry’s food-safety accomplishments over the last 10 years."

A.M.I. and member companies have worked aggressively to develop new technologies and processes to enhance meat and poultry safety, Mr. Boyle stressed. "Using them requires prior approval by the Department of Agriculture," he added. "For example, A.M.I. submitted a petition five years ago to use carcass irradiation — a process to reduce or eliminate pathogens like E. coli — but we are still waiting for the department to initiate a rulemaking on its efficacy," he wrote.

The meat industry has a simple stance when it comes to E. coli O157:H7 — it wants to eliminate it, Mr. Boyle said. "But like other facts of nature — from floods to the flu — even when there is a will, there may not always be a way to do it 100% of the time. Be assured that the industry will not stop trying," he concluded.

Click here to view Mr. Boyle’s letter.

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