Broad food-safety recommendations announced this week by Vice President Joe Biden, chair of the President’s Food Safety Working Group, have been met with general support from the meat and poultry industry as well as by consumer organizations, an indication that food-safety reform may be able to proceed in Congress with less rancor than has characterized such reform efforts in the past.
"The devil’s in the details, of course," Donna Rosembaum, executive director of Safe Tables Our Priority, told MEATPOULTRY.com, "but I think what was announced is a move in the right direction."
In a prepared statement, Barry Carpenter, CEO of the National Meat Association, echoed S.T.O.P.’s assessment. "These are principles of universal applicability and the President's Working Group has taken a step in the right direction by adopting them as guidelines. Details still have to be worked out, but if the Working Group truly starts by acting in a preventive manner, based on good data and analysis, then the opportunity to make real progress exists," he said.
Carpenter, Rosenbaum and S.T.O.P.’s board chair Nancy Donley, among several other industry and consumer representatives, attended the White House meeting at which the Working Group’s recommendations were announced. The recommendations focused on three principles: 1) preventing harm to consumers; 2) effective food safety inspections and enforcement based on good data and analysis; and 3) outbreaks of foodborne illness should be identified quickly and stopped. In addition, the Working Group singled out Salmonella and E. coli contamination and adulteration of food products, including meat and poultry, as special areas of concern. Recommendations also included a call for a food-product traceback system, which will be proposed within three months by the Food and Drug Administration.
"The commitment of the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services [which includes FDA] to work together made us very, very happy," Rosenbaum said. "This is new and we’re really encouraged by it. Even more important, Vice President Biden said that everything’s on the table, including revamping statutory authority for USDA and FDA."
She added that her organization was disappointed that the initial recommendations did not include bolstering the frequency of food inspections by FDA nor call for mandatory recall authority for FDA and USDA. But what she heard gave her reason to think food safety is finally receiving genuine and close attention at the White House’s very highest levels, and she said S.T.O.P. and other consumer organizations have greater access to the White House "than we’ve had in a long time."
She added: "Pathogens of animal origin are getting into produce. We’re really going to need to look at the farm sources of those pathogens. But I think we’re going to start seeing some of this, at least from the Working Group."
She described herself as "cautiously optimistic," she told MEATPOULTRY.com. "My expectations are pretty high, actually. But we’re waiting to see what happens next."