Congressional and Public Affairs
WASHINGTON, Feb. 15, 2005 - The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection
Service today announced the establishment of a new division that will play a major role in developing the Food
Emergency Response Network (FERN), an integrated network of laboratories across America that can quickly respond to
The FSIS FERN Division will work with the Department of Health and Human Services' Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) to expand and manage an existing group of more than 90 federal, state, and local laboratories with the capability
to detect and identify biological, chemical and radiological agents in food.
"Developing a network of laboratories that can communicate effectively and work together applying consistent
laboratory practices will increase our ability to prevent and respond to possible attacks or emergencies involving food,"
said Acting Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Merle Pierson. "FERN not only allows us to strengthen our national
laboratory system, it also improves cooperation and communication between public health officials at the national, state and
local levels," Dr. Pierson said.
The FERN Division is being established under the FSIS Office of Public Health Science, which provides scientific analysis,
advice, data and recommendations regarding matters involving public health and science that are of concern to FSIS. The division
will be co-located with the FSIS Eastern Laboratory in Athens, Ga.
Homeland Security Presidential Directive 9 issued in January 2004, outlined the need to develop a plan to protect the
nation's food and agriculture from attacks and emergencies. One of the directive's recommendations was to expand Federal cooperation
to develop a national network of food, veterinary diagnostic, plant and public health laboratories.
Personnel at participating FERN laboratories analyze surveillance samples, validate new methods used to detect
threat agents in food products and meet a list of guidelines to ensure the security and safety of their facilities and
employees. The FERN Division will coordinate many of these activities as well as recruit new public laboratories to participate
in the network.
The establishment of the FERN Division is the latest in a broad series of actions that FSIS has taken to protect consumers
from deliberate contamination of meat, poultry and egg products. FSIS has more than 7,600 personnel at federally inspected food
establishments nationwide who are trained to look for signs of deliberate contamination. FSIS also established the position of
Import Surveillance Liaison Inspectors, specially trained personnel who are strengthening homeland security efforts at ports of
entry across America.
FSIS has published important brochures to help producers, transporters and consumers understand how they can help
prevent deliberate contamination of food. Four of these brochures, Food Safety and Food Security: What Consumers Need to Know,
FSIS Security Guidelines for Food Processors and FSIS Safety and Security Guidelines for the Transportation and Distribution
of Meat, Poultry and Egg Products and, most recently, Industry Self-Assessment Checklist for Food Security are
all available on the FSIS web site at: