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Historical Perspectives: Veterinarians in Food Safety

Speeches & Presentations

Remarks prepared for delivery by William (Bill) James, DVM, MPH, Chief Public Health Veterinarian for FSIS, at the USDA Opening Ceremony for World Veterinary Year, February 4, 2011 in Washington, DC.

Notes: Slides are available in an attached PDF document; individual pages are linked within the text.

The Early Days
( Slide 1 | Slide 2) The genesis of food inspection in the world is ancient, and predates the veterinary profession. Perhaps the earliest application of government inspection occurred in Medieval Italy. Members of the butcher guilds were required by city-state governments to be licensed, and inspectors were appointed to ensure meat was butchered in sanitary facilities.

( Slide 3) In the United States, it stems from a diverse array of local statutes originating in the Thirteen Colonies. However, the origin of federal food inspection laws for all the United States came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), when President Abraham Lincoln signed the legislation creating USDA in 1862.

( Slide 4) Following the Civil War, westward expansion and development of refrigerated railroad cars spurred the growth of not only the livestock industry, but also meat packing and international trade.

( Slide 5) In response to the growing pressure from veterinarians, ranchers and meat packers for a unified effort to eradicate livestock diseases in the United States, President Chester Arthur signed the Bureau of Animal Industry Act, which created USDA's Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) in 1884 — effectively the forerunner of FSIS.

( Slide 6) BAI's function was to focus on preventing diseased animals from being used as food.

( Slide 7) BAI gained further responsibility in 1890 to enforce the newly approved Meat Inspection Act to ensure salted pork and bacon intended for export was safe. In 1891, the Act was amended to cover the inspection and certification of all live cattle for export and live cattle that were to be slaughtered and their meat exported.

The Growing Meat Packing Industry
( Slide 8) In 1905, the BAI faced its first challenge with the publication of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. The ground breaking book exposed insanitary conditions in the Chicago Meat Packing industry, igniting public outrage, which eventually led to the establishment of continuous governmental inspection.

( Slide 9) An obscure fact of history occurred when Colonel Theodore Roosevelt led fewer Rough Riders up San Juan Hill in 1898 than he would have liked. Many American soldiers in Cuba had become ill or died from spoiled meat preserved with formaldehyde by unscrupulous packers. Roosevelt complained he would as soon have eaten his old hat. When The Jungle was published, President Roosevelt remembered. He quickly commissioned an investigation and reported findings to the Congress, urging “the immediate enactment into law of provisions which will enable the Department of Agriculture adequately to inspect the meat and meat food products entering into interstate commerce….” The Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) was passed in June of 1906.

( Slide 10) The FMIA established sanitary requirements for meat packing establishments, and required mandatory inspection of livestock before and after slaughter. BAI's Meat Inspection Division hired more than 2,200 veterinarians and inspectors at approximately 700 establishments over the next two years.

Advancing Food Safety Regulations
( Slide 11) The 1906 FMIA did not apply to poultry, due to low consumer demand at the time. Chicken was Sunday dinner. But, demand for poultry products skyrocketed during World War II. To ensure the safety of American troops, the U.S. military required its purchasing agents to obtain poultry from establishments that conformed to the military's sanitation standards.

( Slide 12) USDA inspected these establishments to ensure regulatory compliance. This process laid the groundwork for the passage of the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) in 1957. The PPIA required any poultry products that moved in interstate commerce to be continuously inspected. The PPIA requirements mirrored those of the FMIA. The law required that plant facilities be sanitary, that there be inspection of slaughtering and processing operations, and that product labels be accurate and truthful.

( Slide 13) A year later in 1958, in response to public concerns, Congress passed the first Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, mandating the humane handling and slaughtering of livestock that are to be sold to federal agencies. This Act required that all federally inspected slaughter establishments adopt humane handling and slaughtering methods.

( Slide 14) The 1970 Egg Products Inspection Act established federal regulatory authority over the inspection of eggs and egg products. This act mandated continuous egg inspection in plants that produced liquid, frozen and dried egg products. In 1995, FSIS received the sole responsibility for egg products inspection within the USDA. The Food and Drug Administration maintained regulatory authority over shell eggs.

( Slide 15) During the years from 1906, the organizational unit in USDA responsible for meat inspection morphed from one name and structure to another until, in 1981, FSIS was created — the Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Changing the Way We Do Inspection
( Slide 16) The food safety system employed by FSIS to accomplish its mission has evolved to one in which a science-based framework is used to identify and prevent food safety risks. It incorporated principles of pathogen reduction using hazard analyses and process controls. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) annually reports foodborne illnesses caused by pathogens. It has noted significant declines in illnesses from baselines for several pathogens. CDC attributes the changes in the incidence of these infections in part to the control measures implemented by FSIS and the food industry, as well as enhanced food safety education efforts.

Moving Forward in the Next Century
( Slide 17) For the past 100-plus years, the vital services of the Food Safety and Inspection Service have touched the lives of every citizen in America. A thousand veterinarians are among the professionals at work every day in FSIS who are working in 6,000 federal slaughter and food processing establishments, laboratories, performing foreign audits, and performing the many duties necessary for protecting the health of Americans.

( Slide 18) To meet future public health challenges, FSIS must rely on science-based policies and better data analysis. This flexibility will allow FSIS to anticipate, and quickly respond to, food safety challenges before they negatively affect public health. The continued modernization of the inspection system will enable FSIS to meet ever-changing threats to public health.

( Slide 19) In conclusion, FSIS, with its 1000 veterinarians, will continue to build on the notable historical accomplishments of our past to further enhance and strengthen the present science-based inspection system, so that we are prepared and well equipped for the food safety challenges of the future.

—END—
Last Modified Jun 12, 2013