Remarks prepared for delivery by Dr. Elsa Murano, USDA Under Secretary for
Food Safety at the Terrorist Threat Integration Center's Food Terrorism Summit, October 19, McLean, Virginia.
Good morning. I appreciate the opportunity to be here today
to give you some insight on USDA's initiatives to secure the
food supply from intentional contamination.
I also want to thank the Terrorist Threat Integration Center
for bringing a wide variety of officials from various government
agencies together over the next couple of days to discuss the
security of one our most basic needs - food. It is very important
to have these discussions for the sake of protecting the food
supply for our families today and for future generations.
Let me first start off with a brief background of our responsibility
at USDA. In my role as Under Secretary of Food Safety, I oversee
the Food Safety and Inspection Service, or FSIS, which is responsible
for protecting the safety of the meat, poultry and egg products
supply. This is no small task. These products account for more
than $120 billion in sales, or one-third of all U.S. consumer
spending on food.
FSIS has a well functioning food safety infrastructure in place
to protect the public from contamination. Our force of more
than 7,600 inspection and veterinary personnel are in approximately
6,000 plants and import stations every day.
Complementing this sound infrastructure, FSIS has science-based
policies in place that are driving down the prevalence of pathogens
in meat and poultry, thus lowering the numbers of foodborne
illnesses across the nation. Furthermore, the Hazard Analysis
and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system, implemented in meat
and poultry plants nationwide, is designed to prevent and control
contamination of the food supply during processing. This is
the case whether the contamination is naturally occurring or
introduced intentionally. We are also continually evaluating,
and updating when necessary, policies addressing specific food
hazards to focus on those of greatest concern to public health.
To ensure the security of these important products is indeed
a major challenge, but it is one which FSIS and its predecessor
agencies have been equipped to handle for over a century. Over
the past several years, we have strengthened our focus on both
intentional and unintentional contamination by conducting risk
and vulnerability assessments.
Specifically, on food security, vulnerability assessments have
laid a solid foundation from which we have launched many important
initiatives to safeguard our food supply from any intentional
threats. Today, I'll give you some insight into the important
role that vulnerability assessments have played in our food
FSIS' Connection to Homeland Security
First, let me describe how we work within the broader Homeland
Security framework. FSIS and USDA work closely with the White
House and the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate
our food security efforts.
Since the White House Homeland Security Council recognized
the need for a more coordinated approach to food security matters,
it assembled under its aegis the White House Interagency Food
Working Group. The charge of this group, which includes FSIS,
is to develop an interagency strategy to protect the food supply
and minimize it as a target for terrorist activity.
Within FSIS, we established a full-time staff whose sole responsibility
is food security - the Office of Food Security and Emergency
Preparedness, or OFSEP as we normally call it. OFSEP works in
concert with these other entities I just mentioned to ensure
that activities are coordinated and resources are used efficiently.
I will come back to interagency cooperation a little later,
but I first want to give you an idea where FSIS' OFSEP fits
into the larger picture since I will be mentioning this office
periodically throughout my discussion.
FSIS/OFSEP has recently completed seven vulnerability assessments
for selected domestic and imported food products. Even though
our statutory authority lies over the slaughter and processing
stages of the food system, we have gained a much broader perspective
of the strengths and weaknesses in the whole farm-to-table continuum
through these vulnerability assessments.
These assessments were conducted under the auspices of the
White House - Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD)-9
- Defense of United States Agriculture and Food to be exact.
They were completed using the DoD targeting method called CARVER
+ Shock, a method with which I'm sure many of you are familiar.
Putting the Vulnerability Assessments to Use
We have found these assessments are very powerful risk management
tools that can be used to develop strategies and policies that
reduce or eliminate the potential risk at vulnerable points
along the farm-to-table continuum. It is difficult to manage
a threat when we are unsure of its pervasiveness, so it was
especially important to take a broad look when developing the
The vulnerability assessments we conducted provided us the
vital data on some inherent risks in our food safety system
that otherwise would not have been as apparent to us if we had
not conducted them. If we had made food security decisions without
performing them, it would have been akin to aiming at a target
in the dark without night-vision goggles. We would have had
no idea if we had hit our mark. And when that mark is the security
of the food on American tables, both at home and in restaurants,
accuracy is essential.
Testing Under Different Threat Conditions
Therefore, what we gleaned from the vulnerability assessments
helped us develop more effective intervention strategies, especially
when it comes to surveillance and incident response plans. The
assessments allowed us to rank food products and potential contaminating
agents in order of highest concern. Using this ranking, during
periods of heightened awareness our laboratories examine samples
for threat agents posing the greatest risk as identified in
our vulnerability assessments.
For instance, if there is a threat condition Orange
or Red with no threat to the agricultural
sector or food supply, our laboratories will continue to monitor
samples for evidence of tampering that might be related to food
If there is a condition Orange with
a specific threat to the food supply or a particular product
or process, then our laboratories will activate an emergency
response plan, which is a set of specific procedures that lab
personnel follow when a threat to the food supply has been identified.
They will then test 50% of all food safety samples for possible
food security risks.
If we have a condition Red with a specific
threat to the food supply or a particular product or process,
then our lab personnel will activate the emergency response
plan and test up to 100% of all food safety samples for possible
food security risks.
Furthermore, if FSIS identifies a food security threat through
our routine testing of meat, poultry or egg products, we may
activate the emergency response plan. This plan may be activated
before the Department of Homeland Security declares a change
in the threat level to ensure that adequate safety and security
measures are in place to effectively respond to the identified
Federal Emergency Response Network
To enhance surveillance and incident response further, FSIS
has partnered with other food safety agencies such as the Food
and Drug Administration (FDA) and our state counterparts to
build an integrated laboratory system that would not only monitor
the food supply and share data, but also assist in handling
samples in the event of an emergency. This integrated system
is known as the Food Emergency Response Network. It consists
of federal and state governmental laboratories responsible for
handling the increasing number of samples in the event of an
Currently over 60 laboratories, including public health and
veterinary diagnostic laboratories, representing 27 states and
five federal agencies, have agreed to participate in this network.
Laboratory personnel in this system not only will help each
other to handle a surge in sampling, but also share testing
methods and training.
Expanding Surge Capacity
Speaking of surge capacity, FSIS has also expanded laboratory
capability in other ways. Earlier this year, we opened a 2,000
square foot biosafety level 3 laboratory in Athens, Georgia,
to analyze samples for bioterroristic agents and provide us
support in the event of a bioterrorist attack on the food supply.
We also signed an agreement with the Army facility at Aberdeen-Edgewood
in Maryland under which Aberdeen will accept and analyze high
risk samples for a variety of biological agents when necessary.
In another area, vulnerability assessments provided us with
vital information to help guide our inspection activities, focusing
on additional threats that we needed to consider within our
inspection system. Using analyses from the assessments, OFSEP
worked in conjunction with other program areas of FSIS to develop
directives for our inspection and veterinary personnel. These
provide detailed courses of action to take during heightened
threat levels, such as orange and red.
As I mentioned before, the vulnerability assessments helped
us realize the importance of countering vulnerabilities across
the whole farm-to-table continuum. We all have a responsibility
to make sure that each link in the food chain is strong. The
entire system can only be as strong as the weakest link, and
sharing information is vital for a comprehensive effort.
We developed three sets of guidelines
for different segments
of this continuum. The first publication, Food Security
Guidelines for Food Processors, targets slaughter and processing
plants. It helps establishments identify ways to strengthen
their protection against intentional contamination.
The second one is titled Safety and Security Guidelines
for the Transportation and Distribution of Meat, Poultry and
Egg Products. This publication is designed to help facilities
and shippers that process or transport meat, poultry and egg
products identify potential vulnerabilities in their own operations
and address them.
The third publication titled, Food Safety and Food Security:
What Consumers Need to Know, outlines practical information
for consumers about safe food handling practices, foodborne
illness, product recalls, keeping foods safe during an emergency
and reporting suspected instances of food tampering. All of
these publications are available on FSIS' Web site at www.fsis.usda.gov.
Automated Import Information System
Finally, our vulnerability assessment for imported products
showed us ways to improve our Automated Import Information System
even further and think of its potential utility beyond FSIS'
jurisdiction. This system, focuses on a foreign country's inspection
system as a whole, rather than on individual plants. It is a
user-friendly automated system that uses statistics and chooses
imports for reinspection based on the annual volume of shipments
from the exporting country. In addition, it allows our inspectors
at all ports-of-entry to share data.
From the assessment, we have enhanced this network to account
for certain food security issues, and we're looking at integrating
this database system with other agencies' systems, such as the
Customs and Border Patrol, to enhance the flow of vital information
to further strengthen our food safety system against intentional
Interaction With Our Partners
Earlier I mentioned interagency cooperation. Now, I would like
to illustrate how the vulnerability assessments have paved new
roads for expanded partnerships with other government agencies.
The vulnerabilities identified in the various assessments guided
us to take joint steps with other agencies in building food
security awareness and plans for incident response.
For example, we are working with the FDA, USDA's Food and Nutrition
Service and Agricultural Marketing Service to develop training
in food security awareness. We want our employees and those
of our sister agencies to address problems in the food supply
not only as food safety issues, but also possibly as food security
issues. If frontline employees can recognize potential threats
or abnormalities early, then we can improve the efficiency of
The assessments also showed us that there were significant
gaps between the federal and state governments when it came
to prevention and response to any act of intentional contamination.
To close this breach we recently entered into a cooperative
agreement with the FDA, the Department of Homeland Security,
and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture
to develop the best practices by which federal assistance can
be provided expeditiously and effectively. Following the development
of these best practices, we hope to test them through exercises
and modify them as necessary.
We also gained a greater appreciation for interacting more
closely with the intelligence and law enforcement communities.
One of our initial forays in working with these communities
was the hiring of 20 Import Surveillance Liaisons to work with
the Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Patrol
at ports of entry around the nation. Now we are building stronger
relationships with other intelligence and enforcement agencies,
such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence
Agency, the Transportation Security Agency and the Coast Guard.
This kind of interaction only furthers the exchange and flow
of intelligence information. The vulnerabilities we identify
are only as good as the intelligence we're getting. This is
why we very much want to strengthen our relationship with the
intelligence community. In fact, we have detailed one of our
employees from OFSEP to the Terrorist Threat Integration Center
for two days a week. This effort is to provide our analytical
expertise for the food and agriculture sector intelligence assessment.
We also hope to understand better the kinds of intelligence
on threats being gathered.
Finally, we can't forget our partners outside the United States.
We are seeking to enter into bilateral agreements with several
countries to share information to secure the food supply. Agreements
are being developed with Canada, and similar discussions are
beginning with Australia, Japan, Mexico and New Zealand. Our
goal is to ensure that safe and secure food keeps moving between
all of our trading partners and the United States.
As you see, we have made significant progress in enhancing
food security. USDA/FSIS has had a strong and vibrant infrastructure
in place for many decades that has helped us cope with intentional
threats to the food supply. In the post 9/11 environment of
detecting emerging threats and preparing for the unknown, vulnerability
assessments play a key role in helping us implement the most
effective countermeasures to prevent a terrorist attack on the
meat, poultry and egg products supply.
These assessments are the critical base of our ability to deal
with the challenges in this new environment, and we will continue
to use them well into the future. By using vulnerability assessments,
we are able to determine as accurately as possible not only
our strengths and weaknesses, but also gain a much better understanding
of the bigger picture - the whole farm-to-table continuum.
We have improved our surveillance capabilities and techniques;
enhanced database systems; and forged new alliances with various
federal and state agencies that focus on food production, inspection,
surveillance, intelligence and enforcement. As the old adage
goes, "knowledge is power," and the greater capability we have
of sharing information, the better prepared we all are to make
the right decisions affecting the security of our food supply.
I want to reiterate my pleasure for being here this morning.
We are all in this together, and we still have a lot of work
to do. I look forward to your feedback and working more closely
with many of you in the days to come.