Talking Points prepared for delivery by Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Richard Raymond,
to the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), on February 17, 2006, in Washington, DC
Good morning everyone. I, too, want to welcome you here to USDA.
At the Office of Food Safety, we truly appreciate every opportunity
such as this meeting to have dialogue with our food safety and
public health partners.
Secretary Johanns and I share a passion for public health.
Nearly seven years ago, then Governor Johanns asked me to be
the Chief Medical Officer of the Nebraska Department of Health
and Human Services. This was an extraordinary opportunity to
get involved with policy development and making a difference
in the lives of Nebraska's 1.7 million citizens.
When Secretary Johanns asked me to become part of his USDA
team, it was an offer I couldn't refuse because I knew of his
absolute commitment to public health.
The long history this Agency has of protecting public health
was another aspect that drew me here. In fact, this year marks
the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Federal Meat Inspection
Act, which ushered in a new era of food safety on a national
To give you an idea of how far we have come in protecting public
health, let me share these two facts with you.
At the time of the passage of the Federal Meat Inspection Act
in 1906, the life expectancy in the United States was 45 years.
Now it is approximately 75.
And also, 100 years ago in the United States, one in five coffins
contained a child under five years old. Today that number is
only one in 100.
These are amazing accomplishments that have had a profound
effect on our society and everyone here in this room.
As a doctor, I used to think medical advances were responsible
for our improvements in public health. Then I became Nebraska's
Chief Medical Officer and saw that it was vaccinations that
had the greatest effect on public health. Now, as Under Secretary
for Food Safety, I have to say I have had another change of
heart. I realize now that really it was all due to the advances
made in ensuring a safe food supply!
Seriously, a safer food supply has played an integral role
in this amazing phenomenon just as much as clean water, sewage
treatment, vaccines and antibiotics have played important parts
Just to prove the advances we've made in food safety recently,
let me share a few statistics with you. In only a four year
period, the number of positives from our E. coli O157:H7
microbiological surveillance testing program has gone from 59
positives in 7, 010 samples in 2001 to only 14
positives in 8,010 samples in 2004.
Our testing for Listeria monocytogenes in all ready-to-eat
(RTE) products show similar progress. Compared to a decade ago
before HACCP was implemented, we have made substantial progress
in Listeria control. In 1995, 3.02% of the
samples tested positive, and in 2004, only .55 %
of the tested samples turned out positive.
What does this translate to in human terms? Well, the CDC's
FoodNet report from 2005 stated that foodborne illnesses caused
by E. coli O157:H7 decreased by 42% from 1996 to 2004.
And illnesses caused by Listeria monocytogenes dropped
This means that in 2004, compared to the 1996-98 baseline,
an additional 1,939 people did not miss work because of E.
coli O157:H7, and 535 more people did not suffer from a
high fever caused by Listeria monocytogenes.
These advances indicate that our risk-based system to protect
consumers is working. But they could not have been possible
without the many partners we work with on a daily basis — one
of the most essential being you, our state government counterparts.
However, there is much more to do. I want to push the envelope
to improve food safety and public health.
Coming from state government, I realize and truly value the
important role states serve every day in our nation's food safety
and public health infrastructure, and I will do whatever it
takes to improve federal/state cooperation for the well-being
of the American public.
As you are aware, a couple of years ago we began new procedures
for comprehensive reviews of state meat and poultry inspection
programs. These new procedures consisted of a review of state
self-assessments and on-site reviews.
So far we have determined that the self-assessment documentation
for 27 of the 28 State programs support an initial "at least
equal to" finding.
One state received a deferred initial determination from the
self-assessment documentation, and we are currently reviewing
the corrective action plan submitted by that state.
Out of the 16 completed on-site reviews, we have determined
that 14 states have inspection systems that are "at least equal
to" federal inspection. The other two received a deferred determination
and those states have submitted corrective action plans, which
we are currently reviewing.
This month we are wrapping up an additional four on-site reviews
and hope to have those reports issued shortly. The eight remaining
reviews should be completed by August 2006. A final report can
be expected several months after their completion.
This brings me to the issue of interstate shipment of state
inspected meat, poultry, and egg products. I want you to know
that I understand that this is critically important issue to
many of you.
However, USDA has not taken a position on the issue. You should
not expect a decision until after all the on-site reviews and
appropriate follow-ups have been completed. We do not intend
to act without first carefully examining the current state of
your inspection systems.
In the meantime, we will continue to work on ways to improve
federal and state coordination to further enhance food safety
and public health protections.
This coordination depends heavily on readily flowing and efficient
That is why improving communications within FSIS and also to
its outside constituents is a top priority for my office — and
needless to say, enhancing our dialogue with you is no exception.
As you know, we have strengthened the intensity of our outreach
efforts and coordination with you in a variety of ways to reach
small and very small plants.
Through our Strategic Initiatives Partnerships and Outreach
office, we have raised the level of communication higher to
ensure that the information and guidance needs of small plants,
and the needs of the state inspection personnel who work with
them, are being identified and are being met.
We are also looking towards how we can enhance our food defense
initiatives. After all, a strong, vibrant food defense system
can only be brought about through efficient and thorough coordination
between FSIS and state and local governments.
Knowing the importance of each, we are taking steps to foster
further improvements to our communication, cooperation and collaboration
with all of our food safety partners.
FSIS played a lead role in the development of the Department
of Homeland Security's National Response Plan and National
Infrastructure Plan portions that related to the food sector.
These plans lay out a clear outline of the roles, responsibilities
and interactions among food and agriculture stakeholders in
managing incidents and responding to emergencies.
We're not just focusing on the federal level. Our cooperative
agreement with your organization as well as, the Department
of Homeland Security, and the Department of Health and Human
Services' Food and Drug Administration, has led to creation
of guidelines concerning how federal agencies will work with
you and other local agencies in responding to a food and agriculture
In addition, we have created a template that states can use
to develop their own response plans for food emergencies that
will prove useful whether the emergencies are large-scale, intentional
contamination of the food supply or unintentional food safety
Everyone here knows an emergency response plan is worthless
if you don't know how, and when, to implement it during crises.
That is why we are holding a series of five food defense exercises
this year. We will be conducting similar training exercises
in each of our 15 district offices.
They are designed to practice the reporting of a non-routine
incident while coordinating with all levels of government, non-governmental
agencies and the private sector within an incident command system
structure. This structure is the most recognized and effective
on-site tool to managing and handling an emergency situation.
Preparation now will ensure that lives are saved in the future.
So far, the first one we conducted through our district office
in California was a tremendous success. We had the California
Department of Agriculture, California Department of Health Services,
Environment Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration,
Federal Bureau of Investigation, CDC, and local and county health
officials participate in the exercise, and everyone learned
important collaborative skills that will prove vital in protecting
the food supply during an emergency.
The next four drills will be in Raleigh, North Carolina on
April 5-6; Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 17-18; Chicago, Illinois,
on July 19-20; and Albany New York, on September 20-21.
The Food Emergency Response Network (FERN) is another area where
I feel we can make improvements in joint federal and state interaction
to ensure as much protection as possible for American consumers.
As you know, The Food Emergency Response Network is a coordinated
initiative between FSIS and the Department of Health and Human
Services' Food and Drug Administration to develop an integrated
laboratory network capable of providing ongoing surveillance
and monitoring of food, as well as conducting the extensive
sampling necessary in the event of a terrorist attack on the
Consumer safety and public health protection will be enhanced
through FERN. One of the ways FERN would accomplish this would
be to provide surge capacity to be able to respond rapidly to
a sudden high demand for testing. This is imperative if we are
going to restore consumer confidence in the safety of the nation's
food supply and to maintain U.S. economic stability in spite
of any event, which affects the food supply.
If something were to happen in the food and agriculture sector
that would cause public alarm, then our current system simply
would be inundated. FSIS has three regulatory sampling laboratories
and they work great under normal conditions.
However, we need the surge capacity to help us handle at least
three potential likely scenarios.
The first one would be a hoax — let's say someone, or some
organization, claims they have contaminated the food supply,
but did not.
The second would be an actual attack on the food supply by
an individual or group.
The third would be an outbreak stemming from an act of Mother
In all three cases, there would be mass public concern and
significant economic consequences. In the last two cases, there
could potentially be hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people
getting sick and dying.
This is the reason why I feel strongly about FERN and know
there are substantial improvements that are needed to make the
system fully effective for all of us.
In addition, we have a Consumer Complaint Monitoring System,
which is being enhanced to include complaints made to State
public health agencies. This effort will add a significant number
of incidents to our system, greatly enhancing our effectiveness
for identifying a foodborne outbreak or terrorist incident.
We have a strong system in place. But we must work hard to ensure
that we make the most of the opportunities that present themselves
to improve and enhance our food safety and food defense systems.
The state of public health is constantly evolving. We must
ensure that our food safety and food defense systems evolve
along with it. With that said, I'd like to answer any questions
you might have in the time remaining.