Remarks prepared for delivery by Dr. Richard Raymond, USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety, to the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene, December 4, 2006, Houston, Texas.
Good morning. Thank you for that introduction Dr. Hulebak.
Your service as chairperson of this committee in addition to
your work as Vice Chairperson of the Codex Alimentarius Commission
is very much appreciated by everyone at USDA.
I believe that you have a unique perspective on Codex's efforts
to work more effectively and efficiently. A view made possible
by being involved with the Commission as it works from above
to implement the recommendations of the Codex evaluation, while
at the same time taking an active role in this committee's efforts
to implement a work management plan from the bottom up.
On behalf of the United States Government, I want to welcome
the delegates and thank Texas A&M for hosting with us the 38th
Session of the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene.
I also want to thank the delegates to the Committee on Food
Hygiene in addition to their chairperson. I commend you for
your contributions that have helped make the Codex a more productive
— and in the process a more relevant — organization.
You have made great progress-which is a lot less easy then
it sounds — in preparing draft principles and guidelines for
microbiological risk management, revision of the egg code, and
the control of Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat
Since its creation, this committee has helped to further food
safety worldwide through the development of internationally
recognized science-based standards and guidance for countries
on how to meet those standards.
In recent years, thanks to the work just mentioned, this committee
has also led the world food safety community in the development
and application of effective risk management, risk assessment
and HACCP systems.
The recommendations made by this committee serve as important
touchstones for governments as they address food safety issues,
and are more important than ever in this global environment.
These are issues that I'm involved in everyday as the United
States' senior food safety official and it's a large part of
why I appreciate all of your work so much. Don't worry though;
I'm not going to go into my usual speech about the importance
of more robust risk-based inspection systems today.
However, I will say that I believe that these important systems
are the future and will help to greatly improve the state of
food safety around the globe. If you're interested in hearing
the whole pitch, then please find me at the reception.
USDA's Food Safety Program
As the Under Secretary for Food Safety, I oversee the Food
Safety and Inspection Service, which carries out USDA's food
safety regulatory program, as well as public health outreach
and education activities focused on enhancing the safety of
the U.S. food supply.
Our mission is to ensure the safety and wholesomeness of the
nation's commercial supply of meat, poultry and egg products.
It doesn't matter if those products are imported to, or exported
from, the United States.
FSIS has more than 10,000 employees, approximately 7,700 of
whom are inspection and veterinary personnel present daily in
nearly 6,000 meat, poultry and egg product processing plants
throughout the United States.
In addition, we're also dedicated to fostering safer food handling
habits among all types of food handlers, and developing science-based
policies to improve our food safety and defense systems.
I also oversee the work of the U.S. Codex Office. This is a
role that I take very seriously because I can see the difference
that Codex can make when it comes to the health and well-being
of every person on this planet.
The Importance of this Committee's Mission
In fact, the work of the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene plays
an integral part in the overall efforts of all of the other
Codex committees to protect the health of consumers worldwide
by providing access to safe food of all types.
As a medical doctor, I can tell you that the importance of
a safe, plentiful, nutritious food supply cannot be overstated.
There are plenty of examples, unfortunately, of the harm and
suffering that hunger, malnutrition and foodborne disease can
It's my firm belief that the abundance, wholesomeness and safety
of food are all characteristics that ideally should be present
simultaneously. I think we can all agree that a plentiful food
supply is of little value if it's unsafe, or doesn't provide
our citizens with the nutrition that they require for a healthy
Increasing international trade has meant that a greater variety
of foods are available to the world's population, which has
in turn resulted in improved nutrition. However, this expanded
reach also means that unsafe food poses a risk to a larger population
over a greater geographical area than ever before.
Our Success Hinges on Three Key Factors
This meeting is critical to reducing that risk from unsafe
food, while continuing to ensure that our nation's citizens
reap the benefits of growing international trade in food products.
But success will be dependent on three key factors: inclusiveness,
collaboration and science.
Inclusiveness — ensuring that all voices are heard — is essential
to making the improvements we all want in food safety on a global
scale. I bring to my position the belief that everyone deserves
a seat at the table because we can certainly do more together
then we could ever think of doing alone.
Not only do we need to make certain that all governments understand
the importance of cooperation in assuring food safety, but we
need to work to make it possible that all countries are able
to fully participate in international policy making.
The standards set in food hygiene are recognized by all member
countries, and this is critical because it pushes everyone toward
improved food safety. But the burden to some countries is often
not considered. Establishing realistic standards, and the methods
and technical assistance to achieve them, should always be part
of the discussion.
We shouldn't just strive to be inclusive at this conference.
It's something that should be practiced when we return home,
as well. Stakeholders, both industry and consumer groups, need
to understand the importance and ramifications of the work that's
done at these meetings. An open and honest exchange of ideas
with all of your stakeholders is the best way to accomplish
that important goal.
Including your stakeholders in the process doesn't mean that
they're going to agree with every one of your policy decisions-trust
me on that. But they can be certain that their voice was heard,
and their views were considered once the final decision is made.
Success this week will also depend on building a collaborative
relationship between the delegates of various member nations.
Even with all of the advantages of modern telecommunications,
and the cost in time and money of traveling to such meetings,
I still feel there's no substitute for personal interaction
when you're developing the foundation for a professional relationship.
We have a lot that we can learn from each other. The relationships
that are formed this week will encourage the future collaborations
that will be vital to improving food safety in all of our countries.
As delegates, your work is critically important, not only for
your own respective agencies or countries, but for consumers
everywhere. Because of Codex's important role, you need to make
certain to use its full power to unite yourselves so that a
real consensus on shared goals can be achieved.
We can't just be inclusive and collaborative this week, if Codex
and this committee are to improve public health. We must also
make sure that our decisions are based on sound science and
objective data if this committee's decisions are going to have
a positive impact.
There's no question in my mind that a science-based approach
pays off greater returns than any other option available to
us. I believe that USDA's own positive results — or I should
say, practical results — such as dramatic measurable declines
in foodborne illnesses or the incidence of pathogens in products,
speak for themselves.
Let me give you an example. Thanks to USDA's focus on creating
collaborative, science-based policies with all of our food safety
partners on issues directly relating to public health, we've
seen dramatic improvements in the safety of meat, poultry and
egg products in the United States. I believe that the best indicators
of this progress are those that directly relate to pathogen
reduction and public health outcomes. This is where the need
for the objective data I just mentioned comes into play.
Since 2000, the percentage of regulatory samples of meat and
poultry products that tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes
has fallen by 56 percent so that in 2005, only 0.64 percent
of regulatory samples were positive for this dangerous pathogen.
This is in part because FSIS has focused its efforts on the
products that present the greatest risk of being contaminated.
The results are even more dramatic for product sampling for
E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef. Since 2000, positive
samples have declined by nearly 80 percent. Only 0.17 percent
of FSIS' samples were positive in 2005.
We're also seeing dramatic declines in the rate of human illness
in the United States. Comparing human foodborne illness data
from 2005 with 1998 data, E. coli O157:H7 human illness
rates are down 29 percent and illnesses from Listeria monocytogenes
are down 32 percent.
Objective science-based measures of performance are not only
useful for bragging purposes. They also serve a critical function
in letting you know when your policies need to be adjusted before
a major public health threat emerges.
For example, when it comes to Salmonella we haven't
seen quite the reductions that we wanted to see. Thanks to our
data, we were able to quickly discover places in our regime
that could be strengthened and improved upon.
Taking this information, we formulated an 11-step risk-based
initiative to reduce Salmonella in meat and poultry
products, which included increased sampling in plants where
it's most needed and quarterly publication of Salmonella
testing data by product class.
This plan, which is already seeing positive results would,
not have been possible without first having objective data that
could act as a solid foundation for our science-based policies.
All three of the factors that I mentioned are connected. Inclusiveness
by all member countries provides the necessary elements for
thorough scientific discussion to occur in an atmosphere of
understanding and collaboration.
The state of public health is constantly evolving and we must
evolve with it. We can't afford to let ourselves, our partners
or our nations' food safety systems stagnate.
Once again, I want to reiterate how much I value the work you
put into this committee. The decisions you make help to improve
the health and well-being of millions of consumers around the
Thank you again for your time and I hope everyone here has
a productive meeting this week.