Statement of Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, Under Secretary for Food Safety Before the Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development,
Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies, March 8, 2012.
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Farr, and other Members of the Subcommittee, I am Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, Under Secretary for Food Safety.
With me is Al Almanza, Administrator of USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
I am pleased to appear before you today in support of the President's fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget request for FSIS, and to discuss
the status of FSIS programs. The President's FY 2013 budget request for FSIS includes $995,503,000 in appropriated funding, a net
decrease of $8,924,000 from the FY 2012 appropriation of $1,004,427,000. With this funding level, I am confident that FSIS will
maintain the effectiveness of its core mission.
In 2011, FSIS released a 5-year Strategic Plan, which details the Agency's goals for FY 2011-2016, and outlines the framework
for achieving these goals. The full plan can be found on the FSIS website
FSIS' Strategic Plan is divided into eight goals based on the following strategic themes: preventing foodborne illness, empowering people
and strengthening infrastructure, and understanding and influencing the farm-to-table continuum.
Preventing Foodborne Illness
The first strategic theme, preventing foodborne illness, is achievable through the following goals: maximizing industry compliance with
food safety policies; reaching out to and educating the public to improve food-handling practices; strengthening collaboration among
stakeholders to prevent foodborne illness; and ensuring that inspection aligns with risks.
Every policy and program that we implement in the Office of Food Safety is designed to prevent foodborne illnesses. We have been
particularly successful in protecting consumers from E. coli O157 since the implementation of Hazard Analysis and Critical
Control Point (HACCP) and our zero tolerance policy. Between 2000 and 2010, FSIS helped our nation meet the Healthy People 2010 goal
to reduce E. coli rates by 50 percent, largely because of strengthened beef safety policy and enforcement.
However, until every illness is prevented, we have more to do. While E. coli O157 illnesses have been cut almost in half,
Salmonella illnesses — which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
cause more hospitalizations and deaths than any other type of bacteria found in food — have not declined. That is why we are
constantly applying new methods to protect consumers from emerging foodborne hazards. Our successes in targeting O157 have led us to
believe that we can make similar strides against Salmonella, non-O157 Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC), and other
pathogens found in FSIS-regulated products. Over the last fiscal year, FSIS has taken steps to do just that.
Maximizing Industry Compliance with Food Safety Policies
One of the ways that FSIS combats foodborne illness is to encourage industry to reduce the prevalence of pathogens in slaughter and
processing establishments. The Agency implemented stricter Salmonella and new Campylobacter performance standards for
poultry products, which are expected to prevent as many as 25,000 foodborne illnesses annually.
In July 2011, we announced the expansion of the Salmonella Initiative Program (SIP), which provides public health benefits by
encouraging establishments to test for microbial pathogens, a key feature of effective process control. The voluntary, incentive-based program
will grant participating establishments waivers of regulatory requirements with the condition that establishments test for Salmonella,
Campylobacter, and generic E. coli, and share this internal food safety data with FSIS.
In the past year, we declared the six serogroups of pathogenic E. coli, the serogroups of greatest public health concern, as
adulterants in non-intact raw beef. FSIS personnel will soon test beef for these six serogroups, and will ensure that raw product that tests
positive for any of these strains will be diverted from commerce. While more than 100 Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC) serotypes
have been associated with human illness, these six serogroups cause between 70 and 83 percent of confirmed non-O157 STEC illnesses, and the
CDC estimates that nearly 113,000 foodborne illnesses occur in the United States from these pathogens annually. Thus, combating these six
serogroups can make a huge public health impact. FSIS will launch its non-O157 E. coli testing program on June 4.
In the past year, we also announced and asked for comment on a new "test and hold" requirement for the meat and poultry industry.
By requiring industry to hold products subject to FSIS microbiological testing until the tests determine they are safe to release in commerce,
consumer exposure to unsafe food will be reduced significantly. This approach could have prevented 22 recalls during FY 2009 and FY 2010.
We expect this policy to result in fewer recalls by industry, fewer illnesses, and increased consumer confidence in the safety of the food supply.
Public Education and Outreach
Another way we fight foodborne illness is through public education and outreach to improve food-handling practices. We can help people
understand and adopt the preparation and cooking practices that will make their families safer.
On June 28, 2011, FSIS launched a joint national multimedia campaign with Health and Human Services (HHS) to help families prevent
food poisoning: the Food Safe Families — Check Your Steps campaign.
The campaign urges consumers to remember four key steps to food safety: clean (surfaces, utensils and hands), separate (raw meat and poultry
from other foods), cook (to a safe temperature), and chill (raw and prepared food). We have reached millions using a variety of donated media,
including television, radio, print, and social media tools and the Internet. During the 2011 Thanksgiving season, I participated in a
Food Safe Families media tour that generated more than 190 television and radio segments nationwide, reaching 20.3 million people.
In addition, the Ad Council's "separate"; television spot ran on Wal-Mart Checkout TV, reaching 50 million shoppers in a
2-week period. Our partnership with Ad Council has enabled us to reach millions of consumers using very limited resources.
On May 5, 2011, FSIS launched Mobile Ask Karen, a web-based smartphone application that gives consumers another way to access the
only U.S. government-sponsored food safety virtual-representative. Ask Karen had a self service rate of 98.8 percent for 2011, representing
a savings of the time and money that would have otherwise been required for FSIS employees to respond to consumer questions.
As a mother and a doctor, I recognize the importance of developing good health habits at an early age. That is the purpose of our Food
Safety Education Camps at schools and the Food Safety Discovery Zone,
which visits grocery stores, schools, and community events. A significant part of our outreach programs target children and parents of
young children, because children are among the most vulnerable population groups impacted by foodborne illness. Ultimately, though, our
efforts reach all consumers because everyone can benefit from knowledge of safe food behaviors.
In order to be successful in our battle with foodborne illness, we must also continue to strengthen collaboration with our food safety
partners. In January of this year, USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU),
in which we committed to sharing information we have collected related to foodborne pathogens,
contaminants and illnesses. As partners in ensuring food safety and furthering the efforts of the President's Food Safety Working Group,
we are also working with FDA to facilitate implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, which calls for increasing coordination
and consultation between the two agencies.
Ensuring Inspection Aligns with Risks
We must also continue to think of creative ways to improve food safety through more efficient and effective inspection and verification
activities. As part of that effort, OFS has announced a proposed rule — Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection — that
would facilitate the reduction of pathogen levels in poultry and streamline slaughter inspection in young poultry slaughter establishments.
Inspectors would still perform a critical appraisal of each carcass, as mandated by law. In addition, the proposed system would direct
FSIS personnel to off-line food safety-related tasks, such as verification of the establishments' HACCP systems, verifying that establishments
are controlling their production process, and sampling for pathogenic microorganisms. It would also require that establishments address
contamination before the chiller, in order to reduce the occurrence and levels of Salmonella and Campylobacter on the
finished carcasses. This new system is expected to prevent over 5,000 foodborne illnesses per year. As reflected in the President's
budget request, we estimate that this proposal also will save taxpayers more than $90 million during the first three years after
implementation and lower production costs for the poultry industry by at least $256 million per year.
Empowering People and Strengthening Infrastructure
FSIS is working continually to identify ways to streamline operations and consolidate staff and resources, but not at the expense
of our food safety goals. In order to do this, we must strengthen infrastructure and empower employees with the tools they need to achieve
success. The President's FY 2013 Budget includes an increase of $4 million to purchase, install, and maintain time clock hardware and
software for 3,300 employees in 500 industry plants. This will enable FSIS to capture more accurately the time and attendance of inspection
personnel working in slaughter facilities as well as reimbursable overtime, and to electronically prepare establishment bills for that overtime.
As part of the USDA's Blueprint for Stronger Service,
the Department proposed a number of office closures and consolidations to reduce administrative costs and improve organizational consistency and
efficiency. FSIS has determined that it can streamline resources by reducing the number of district offices from 15 to 10. We are working with
employees to limit the impact on affected employees and their families. This will not have an impact on inspectors in the establishments.
We estimate that ultimately this would reduce costs by at least $1 million annually, when fully implemented, while more evenly distributing
the circuits, establishments covered, and FSIS employees that each district office oversees.
In April 2011, we launched the Public Health Information System (PHIS), a modern system that collects,
analyzes, and even predicts key data about public health trends and food safety violations at the more than 6,000 FSIS-regulated plants
across the country. As with any undertaking of this magnitude, PHIS implementation has had its challenges, but the Agency has listened to
its employees, made significant improvements to the system and, as a result, has completed implementation of PHIS' domestic component
to our employees. PHIS has made daily business more efficient, and given us a greater understanding of the larger food safety picture.
Since PHIS was launched, we know more about establishment operations, volumes, HACCP plans, and other food safety programs.
We have increased the number of scheduled samples being taken and lowered the discard rates of unused samples because sampling is
more targeted. We also have a pilot program that provides industry with access through PHIS to inspection results and noncompliance
reports, allowing for more direct communication. Most importantly, we now have the ability to search and survey information in near real
time, as opposed to having to look in separate, unsearchable databases and read paper documents.
Understanding and Influencing the Farm-to-Table Continuum
Contamination can occur anywhere: at the farms where animals are raised, at the slaughter and processing plants that FSIS regulates,
and on cutting boards in kitchens. This means that we must be vigilant in working with our food safety partners across the farm-to-table
continuum to protect consumers from harmful pathogens.
Everything we do at FSIS is affected by what happens before animals are brought to slaughter, and we can always do more to ensure that
the food on consumers' tables is safe. We do not seek an increase in appropriated funding or expansion of our regulatory jurisdiction to the
farm, but we think it is important to sponsor a conversation about pre- and post-harvest food safety. I think it is important that all of
us with a stake in food safety — producers, packers, public interest groups, and regulators as well as consumers — engage in a
comprehensive, honest, and thoughtful conversation about how to truly make food safer. That means examining every opportunity from farm to
table, gaining a better understanding of foodborne illness, and implementing effective science-based policies that respond to existing and
In November 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." During the meeting, we
discussed the latest thinking on 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. FSIS is already promoting on-farm
practices that can reduce and control pathogens at the pre-harvest stage. The Agency is also working on ways to trace contaminated
food to the source before the product enters commerce.
Foodborne Illness Attribution and Measuring Success
Progress has been made in the President's challenge to Food Safety Working Group members to create meaningful metrics to measure
progress in reducing illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths from contaminated food.
However, the Government Accountability Office reported in its February 2011 High-Risk Series Update that food safety agencies
have not developed a government-wide performance plan that includes results-oriented performance measures, which could be used
to guide corrective actions and monitor progress. In response to that, FSIS developed a Strategic Plan that will help strengthen
collaboration with our regulatory partners to prevent foodborne illness, and measure our progress to that end. As part of this effort,
FSIS has made attribution estimates of the total number of illnesses from meat, poultry, and processed egg products and developed a key
corporate performance measure of our progress. We calculated between FY 2007-2009 that there were 436,401 Salmonella,
Listeria monocytogenes, and E. coli O157:H7 illnesses attributable to FSIS-regulated products. By FY 2016, we hope
to reduce this number to 363,547.
While measuring food safety success is something we always strive for, our greatest successes are often what does not happen. How
do you measure product that was not contaminated, and a recall that did not happen because product was detained? You probably are not
able, but these immeasurables are key to marking our successes. I would like to recognize that FSIS employees work every day to
improve the safety of our food supply, ensuring the humane treatment of livestock, identifying regulatory violations, and using science
to detect and detain unsafe product, solving outbreaks, and educating consumers.
This seemingly routine work constitutes the majority of our successes, and these successes only serve to inspire us to do more. I
believe that the Strategic Plan will inspire us to work together as one team toward a common goal — preventing foodborne illness —
and will measure our progress as we do so.
Thank you for your support in ensuring the safety of meat, poultry, and processed egg products and for the opportunity to testify
before you today. I look forward to answering your questions.