More needs to be done to enhance food safety: Vilsack

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON — Opening remarks at the White House Food Safety Working Group Listening Session were made by U.S.D.A. Secretary Tom Vilsack, in which he covered the steps to be taken to enhance the safety of the nation’s food supply. Attending the listening session were stakeholders representing a diverse range of organizations.

"While Americans enjoy one of the safest food supplies in the world, we have witnessed too many outbreaks that make us worry that the food on our dinner plate or in our child's lunch box will harm instead of nourish," he said. "This is not acceptable. Today is the beginning of a significant and critical process that will fully review the safety of our nation's food supply.

"President Obama has pledged his full support in this matter and has charged the Food Safety Working Group with examining all aspects of food safety, be it meat or produce, fresh or frozen, whether it is imported, or produced domestically," he added.

Food safety will be one of U.S.D.A.'s highest priorities. "We are in the midst of reviewing all of our statutory authorities, as well as administrative and regulatory steps we can take, to ensure that our actions support public health and consumer safety to the fullest extent," he said.

U.S.D.A. has already reviewed the Federal Meat Inspection Act, existing Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point regulations, enforcement authorities and how the agency collects data.

Key to a functioning food-safety system is preventing foodborne illness, Mr. Vilsack continued, which means creating robust standards and having in place sufficient authorities to prevent illnesses from occurring. "Both F.D.A. and U.S.D.A. have embraced this principle and we must have a consistent approach," he said.

Regulatory agencies must watch for disease outbreaks and take rapid action to ensure they have effective and targeted recalls.

"We must ensure that we are allocating our food safety resources effectively and efficiently," he added. "That means focusing the most attention on the products that have the most potential to cause harm."

Food the U.S. is importing should be as safe as the food the U.S. is exporting. "All parts of the food-safety system need to coordinate and work together in a seamless fashion," Mr. Vilsack said.

"There is a need develop a way to measure food-safety success. "I am confident that by working together, we will make improvements to the safety of our food supply," Mr. Vilsack said. "But we need a way to track our progress both in the short- and long-term, so that we do not settle for merely okay, but continually strive for improvement. Lives are at stake and good is simply not good enough."

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