Statement of Alfred V. Almanza, Administrator, Food Safety and Inspection Service,
Before the Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies,
March 13, 20132.
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Farr, and Members of the Subcommittee, I am Alfred Almanza, Administrator
of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Thank you for the opportunity to discuss the status of
the Agency's work to ensure the safety of meat, poultry, and processed egg products and to prevent foodborne
During the last Congress, Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen testified before this
Subcommittee about the FSIS Strategic Plan,
which details our goals for FY 2011-2016. I'd like to highlight some of our progress, but first, I'd like to
talk about who we are and what we do.
Who We Are
FSIS is the public health agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) responsible for ensuring
that the nation's commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products, whether domestic or imported, is safe,
wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged.
The dedicated men and women of FSIS all across the nation are vital to carrying out our mission. Of the
9,750 people that FSIS employed at the end of FY 2012, 8,678 of them were on the front lines protecting public
health in 6,263 federally regulated establishments, in one of the three FSIS laboratories, at approximately
120 ports of entry, and in 150,000 in-commerce facilities nationwide.
What We Do
Federal Inspection of Domestic Products
Our mission is unique because much of it is mandated by law. FSIS enforces the Federal Meat Inspection Act
(FMIA) and the Poultry Products
Inspection Act (PPIA), which
require the examination and inspection of all livestock (cattle, sheep, swine, goats, horses, mules, other
equines) and poultry (domesticated birds, defined in our regulations as chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese,
guineas, ratites or squabs) slaughtered and processed for use in commerce for human food, with few exceptions.
FSIS also enforces the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act
requires that livestock be handled and slaughtered humanely. Livestock and poultry slaughter operations cannot
operate without the presence of inspection personnel, and inspection personnel must also be present at least
once-per-shift per day for meat and poultry processing operations. During fiscal year (FY) 2012, FSIS personnel
inspected about 147 million head of livestock and 8.9 billion birds at slaughter establishments nationwide.
Under the Egg Products Inspection
Act, FSIS also inspects processed egg products, which are primarily used as ingredients in other foods,
such as prepared mayonnaise and ice cream, and by the food service industry, including hospitals and schools.
During FY 2012, FSIS personnel inspected about 4 billion pounds of processed egg products.
Federal Inspection of Imported Products
FSIS also regulates all imports of meat, poultry, and processed egg products intended for use as human food.
In fact, before imports of FSIS-regulated products are allowed, FSIS establishes the initial
equivalence of every exporting country's
food safety regulatory system, on a product-by-product basis.
Once a foreign food safety system is determined to be equivalent, FSIS inspects all meat, poultry, and
processed egg products from that country at U.S. ports of entry. During FY 2012, FSIS personnel inspected
approximately 3.1 billion pounds of meat and poultry products presented for import by 29 actively exporting
foreign countries, and approximately 15.6 million pounds of processed egg products presented for import from
FSIS also conducts audits of the food safety systems of exporting countries to make sure that they continue
to provide a level of food safety equivalent to the U.S. system.
The Agency evaluates foreign inspection systems on an annual basis and performs its annual verification by
reviewing any changes in the foreign country's food safety system and the country's performance in port-of-entry
inspections. Based on these reviews, the Agency decides whether it can conclude that the country is maintaining
equivalence, or whether additional Agency action is warranted. This performance-based approach allows FSIS to
direct its resources to foreign food regulatory systems that potentially pose a risk to public health; make its
international program more consistent with its domestic inspection system; and improve the linkage between port
of entry re-inspection and on-site audits. During FY 2012, FSIS conducted on-site audits of 11 countries that
are eligible to export meat, poultry and egg products to the United States and identified no significant
Cooperative State Inspection
Under authorities provided by the FMIA and PPIA, FSIS also ensures the safety of State-inspected meat and poultry
products through cooperative agreements with State departments of agriculture.
FSIS cooperates with 27 States
to develop and administer State meat and poultry inspection programs that enforce food safety requirements that
are "at least equal to" Federal requirements at about 1,700 establishments. These establishments
can only ship or sell products within their State.
FSIS also cooperates with three States — Ohio, North Dakota, and Wisconsin — to operate interstate
shipment programs. FSIS signed its first cooperative interstate shipment agreement with Ohio on August 8, 2012,
marking the implementation of Section 11015 of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008. FSIS also signed
agreements with North Dakota and Wisconsin, on January 11 and 14, 2013, respectively. For the first time, under
these agreements, four Ohio establishments and one North Dakota establishment have been able to ship their
products across State lines and nationwide. The Ohio and North Dakota departments of agriculture enforce food
safety requirements that are the same as Federal requirements and apply Federal marks of inspection at these
establishments. No Wisconsin establishments have been selected yet to ship interstate under its program.
FSIS continues to meet our statutory obligations, but we are constantly asking ourselves how we can better
protect consumers. I began my career at FSIS as a food inspector in a small slaughter plant in Texas nearly
35 years ago, and as Administrator, I have taken what I learned in the field and used that knowledge to shape
innovations that are reducing the risk of foodborne illness from meat and poultry.
Improving Food Safety
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in January, comparing 2011 with the 2006-2008
baseline, the incidence of foodborne infections associated with key pathogens has decreased in some cases and
increased in others. For example, although the incidence of infection was 26 percent lower for E. coli
O157, it was 14 percent higher for Campylobacter and did not change significantly for Salmonella.
Since FSIS began measuring all illnesses from FSIS-regulated products, our Salmonella illness estimates
have mirrored the stagnant CDC incidence, despite FSIS interventions. As long as people continue to get sick from food,
we must ensure that our inspection activities align with food safety risks.
That is one reason why on January 20, 2012, we announced a proposed rule
that would modernize the poultry slaughter inspection system by focusing inspection on areas of poultry production
that will have the biggest impact on public health. The proposed system would build on the food safety improvements we made in 1998, when FSIS began verifying that the industry is identifying and controlling pathogens through Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans. Currently, FSIS in-plant personnel perform quality assurance tasks such as looking for visible defects, but they can't detect invisible pathogens and microbes this way. Therefore, in establishments that choose to operate under this proposed new inspection system, FSIS would focus on critical food safety tasks, such as pathogen testing and verifying HACCP and sanitation standard operating procedures, and the quality assurance tasks would be turned over to the company. FSIS would continue to inspect every carcass. We estimate that the new poultry inspection system would avert about 5,000 foodborne illnesses from Salmonella and Campylobacter annually.
In the meantime, we have already made major strides toward reducing the incidence of foodborne illness.
For example, to stay ahead of emerging risk and trends with Salmonella, FSIS has established a Strategic
Performance Working Group, and its first series of meetings were dedicated to identifying potential interventions
or actions to decrease FSIS-attributable salmonellosis.
On June 4, 2012, FSIS began testing for six serogroups of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli — O26,
O103, O45, O111, O121 and O145 — in addition to O157:H7. Between January 1 and March 6, 2013, for example,
FSIS tested 575 samples of domestic and imported raw
ground beef components for non-O157 E. coli, and only two of them were positive, both for E. coli O103.
Also just last month, we implemented our "hold and test" policy, which means that since February 8, meat and
poultry establishments have held FSIS-sampled product from commerce until the test results have come back negative.
This new policy will help to prevent meat and poultry products that test positive for dangerous pathogens from reaching
store shelves or consumers' tables. FSIS calculates that if this new requirement had been in place between 2007 through
2010, nearly 20 percent of the meat and poultry recalls that occurred during that time would have been prevented, because
the product would not have been released into commerce in the first place.
Better Ensuring Humane Handling
In addition to improving food safety, the Agency is also dedicated to ensuring that livestock are handled humanely
throughout the slaughter process. FSIS ensures this through consistent, effective enforcement of the HMSA. We are
continually implementing new measures to improve FSIS verification and enforcement of Federal humane handling
One of the Agency's Strategic Plan goals is to ensure that by FY 2016, 50 percent of livestock slaughter
establishments have an effective, systematic approach to humane handling. We are on track, and I can report
that as of September 30, 2012, 42 percent of livestock slaughter establishments had developed systematic
approaches to humane handling verified by FSIS.
We are also happy to report that USDA welcomed the first Humane Handling Ombudsman in July 2012. The
Department-level Ombudsman serves as a neutral party, independent of FSIS, to whom FSIS field personnel and other
stakeholders can report humane handling concerns when the standard reporting mechanisms do not adequately
address outstanding issues. USDA has published a fact sheet about the Ombudsman and how to report concerns at:
We live in a time when everyone in government must do more with less. In addition to looking at how we can carry
out our food safety mission more effectively, we must do everything in our power to be good stewards of taxpayer
money. We know that there is more to be done and FSIS continues looking for ways to improve, innovate, and
modernize, while targeting resources where they can be most effective.
For example, we estimated that the previously mentioned modernization of poultry slaughter inspection would
save taxpayers approximately $90 million over a three-year period after implementation begins. FSIS also believes
that participating establishments will see increased productivity and lower production costs of about $250 million
per year. Thus, industry will be able to reduce the end-price of poultry for consumers.
Moreover, on October 1, 2012, FSIS consolidated its 15
district offices into 10. The
consolidation integrated our administrative field staff and improved mission consistency by more evenly
distributing the circuits, establishments, and FSIS employees that each district office oversees, while
maintaining the same level of inspection in FSIS-regulated establishments.
While our primary focus is preventing foodborne illness by making sure that industry produces safe food, we are
constantly looking for other ways to improve the food safety system, with the help of our food safety partners
and by educating consumers.
Government and Stakeholder Partnerships
FSIS has no regulatory authority over what happens before livestock and poultry reach the slaughterhouse gate,
but when a consumer is eating a hamburger, they shouldn't need to worry about who regulates what, and when.
They just need to know that it's safe to eat.
We understand that everything we do at FSIS is affected by what happens before animals are brought to
slaughter, and that is why we are working with our food safety partners across the farm-to-table continuum to
ensure that food is safe. We have met with our partners inside and outside of USDA to talk about ways that we
can promote good pre-harvest practices that will reduce the likelihood of contamination at slaughter. For example,
on November 9, 2011, FSIS held a joint public meeting with
USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and Agricultural Research Service on "Pre-Harvest Food
Safety for Cattle," and discussed how pre-harvest pathogen control strategies for animals presented for
slaughter can reduce the likelihood that beef could become contaminated with E. coli, Salmonella,
and other pathogens.
We also work with our Federal food safety partners to share food safety expertise and prevent duplication.
For example, in January 2012, USDA and FDA signed a memorandum
of understanding, in which we committed to sharing information we have collected related to foodborne
pathogens, contaminants, and illnesses. That same month, FSIS, FDA, and CDC hosted a joint
public meeting to discuss Federal efforts to advance tri-agency
understanding of food source attribution and develop harmonized food source attribution estimates to inform
targeted food safety strategies. The public meeting also introduced the Interagency Food Safety Analytics
Collaboration, which was formed to collaborate on analytic projects.
So while FSIS is doing its part to measure illnesses attributed to FSIS-regulated products, we are also aware
that the products we regulate are only one piece of the food safety puzzle. We are all tasked with reducing
foodborne illnesses, and we are working to combat the sources of these illnesses, no matter where they are
and who regulates them.
In addition to doing everything we can to make sure that food is safe before it gets to the store shelves, we
feel it is also our responsibility to give consumers the tools that they need to handle food safely at home.
That's why FSIS, CDC, and FDA teamed up with the Ad Council to launch a national public service campaign
called Food Safe Families. The
Food Safe Families campaign utilized national TV, radio, and print ads — created pro bono by the
ad agency JWT New York — to educate consumers about the risks of foodborne illness and how to prevent it.
The campaign has had a big impact for a minimal investment, especially when you consider the costs of foodborne
illness — whether in terms of lost job productivity or the costs of health care. For an investment of
approximately $2.8 million, the Ad Council has been able to run a campaign worth an estimated $46 million
through donated media, resulting in exponential growth of our consumer education efforts.
To better reach consumers on their terms and ensure that our food safety messages are better received by a
larger audience, FSIS also utilizes various social and new media to reach out about key food safety messages,
such as recalls and safe food handling practices. FSIS actively disseminates food safety messages through
Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and YouTube.
The number of visitors to the virtual food safety expert, Ask Karen, nearly
tripled in FY 2012, growing from 444,000 answers viewed in FY 2011 to more than 1.1 million answers viewed in FY
2012. FSIS attributes this in large part to converting its Ask Karen web page into a smartphone application in
the third quarter of FY 2011 and continued promotion through FY 2012. In March 2012, Federal Computer Week
recognized FSIS with a Fed 100 Award for playing a pivotal role through Ask Karen in the Federal IT community.
On March 6, 2012, FSIS launched Twitter feeds
for each State and U.S. territory that provide tailored food safety alerts to consumers. Followers of these Twitter
accounts receive alerts about meat and poultry recalls in their area, as well as information on how to protect the
safety of their food during severe weather events.
The @USDAFoodSafety Twitter account had 332,600 followers at
the end of FY 2012, representing a 66 percent increase over FY 2011. We are currently able to reach more than 390,000
followers with each tweet we send, and that number grows by about 2,000 weekly.
FSIS hosted four Twitter chats during FY 2012, including one for Thanksgiving, one for Independence Day and summer
grilling, one on food safety "myth busters" during National Food Safety Education Month, and a chat with
Under Secretary Hagen as part of the Department's virtual office hours series.
More and more, we are using mobile technology to reach consumers where they are, whether they are at the grocery
store, in the kitchen, or at the grill. Not only does the messaging reach more consumers; it requires fewer staff
hours to operate than a hotline or a website.
We are continually looking at the FSIS organization and asking ourselves if this is the best we can do and
if this is the most efficient way that we can do it. Government can deliver more than people expect, and FSIS
is committed to doing so.
We are one team, with one purpose, working toward a common and extremely important goal. I am proud to lead
such a committed workforce in its noble public health mission.
Thank you for the opportunity to report on the status of FSIS programs, and to talk about the important work
that our employees do every day to protect public health.