RESTON, Va. – USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has been urged by the North American Meat Processors Association not to hurry implementation of its proposed policy on the Big 6 non-O157:H7 STEC’s during last week’s FSIS public meeting teleconference. FSIS has not adequately addressed the impact on small and very small plants, and the FSIS determinations about the Big 6 strains of E. coli are not in line with its risk profile, NAMP said.

More than 260 people participated in the teleconference about the agency's implementation plans and methods for controlling non-O157 STECs in raw beef products. FSIS said it still intends to implement the policy starting on March 5, 2012. It refused one request by NAMP and other industry associations to delay implementation.

Repeated industry concerns about the proposed policy, however, coupled now with concerns voiced last week by major beef exporting countries to the US, is adding to the policy’s opposition.

Ann Wells, NAMP’s director of scientific and regulatory affairs, highlighted three main points for the association during this program:

  1. FSIS has inadequately addressed potential effects on small and very small plants. “The agency has asked for comments on the impact of the new rule on small businesses, and stated the document does not impose significant negative impact on a significant number of small and very small businesses,” she said.
  2. Wells said NAMP does not believe FSIS has the data in place to make such assumptions. She warned the new policy may have significant negative impacts on small businesses in the areas of increased costs of raw materials, increased costs associated with sampling, holding, and diverting products, as well as the time, costs, and resources needed to validate and verify current systems are effective in controlling the six additional STEC strains.
  3. The rule’s start date should be delayed. "The agency should delay implementation of the rule until the major questions and issues surrounding this policy can be resolved,” Wells said. “This includes baseline data on both carcasses and trim, and the development of accurate, rapid and validated tests available to the industry,” she added. She said NAMP is also concerned the new policy as is might interrupt trade and that adequate time must be given to work with the foreign countries whose product US processors import. “We know many of our major trading partners have the same concerns regarding test methods, baseline data, and the implementation time frame,” she added.

Finally, NAMP believes FSIS’ determinations on the six strains of non-O157 STEC are not in line with the information presented in the draft risk profile, she charged.

“We are concerned about the disconnect between the draft risk profile and the information presented in the Federal Register Notice,” she added. “The risk profile leaves most questions unanswered, including prevalence in cattle and ground beef and the virulence of the organisms. In reading the draft risk profile, the only logical conclusion that can be drawn is that more information and data needs to be collected before a course of action can be determined.”

FSIS has extended the public comment period on the Federal Register through Dec. 21.