Beef Australia 2015 Official Symposium Opening
Remarks before Beef Australia 2015 Official Symposium Opening
Remarks as prepared for delivery by Alfred V. Almanza, Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, Beef Australia 2015 Official Symposium Opening, Rockhampton, Australia, May 4, 2015.
Good morning. It’s great to be here in Rockhampton.
Although it is a long trip, coming here reminds me of how small our world is becoming, and how important food safety and international trade truly is to all of us.
I want to thank Beef Australia for organizing this event and inviting me to speak here today.
The fact that we are all here at this conference is evidence of a strong international commitment to science-based food safety policies that protect public health and facilitate trade.
The agency that I lead, the Food Safety and Inspection Service, is the public health branch of the United States Department of Agriculture. FSIS is responsible for ensuring that meat, poultry and egg products are safe, wholesome and accurately labeled.
At FSIS, our mission is to advance food safety worldwide. That includes regulating food that is produced domestically in the U.S., as well as food that is imported from other countries.
We also certify that product destined for export meets both U.S. food safety requirements as well as the food safety requirements of the importing country.
We know that the “inspected by USDA” mark means a safe and high quality product for consumers, and we take that responsibility very seriously.
On that note, we look forward to working with you, the Australian government and other global partners to continue to advance efforts in key areas such as risk assessment, laboratory capacity building and export certification.
Together, we have the expertise and the skills to meet a common goal of food safety between participating countries and FSIS’s statutory mission to protect public health.
Modernization and Prevention
Our goal at FSIS is to modernize our approach to food safety. This modernization includes ongoing collaboration and communication with the public—including our partners in foreign governments, industry, stakeholder groups, state and local government, and academia.
We are committed to modernization because we know it’s necessary to achieve our primary objective, and that is to prevent foodborne illnesses.
Our prevention-based approach has led us to update our policies and regulations, as well as make significant changes to our organizational structure.
More than anything, it demands a focus on tackling the causes of foodborne illness—including pathogens such as Shiga toxin-producing E. coli and Salmonella.
A science-based approach to preventing contamination is one of the surest ways to reduce the number of foodborne illnesses.
FSIS is applying this science-based approach to the more than 6,000 facilities that we regulate in the United States. These are the establishments that slaughter and process meat and poultry, as well as produce egg products.
Over time, we have taken a number of steps to ensure that these facilities are putting the safest possible product on store shelves.
In taking these steps, we’ve collaborated with our stakeholders and communicated with the public—which leads to better and more effective food safety policies.
FSIS’s transparent risk assessments, coupled with the public comment process for establishing new regulations, makes for one of the safest food supplies and most trusted inspection systems in the world.
In order to keep that trust, we must gain assurances that products from other countries are safe. We do that by verifying that the exporting country maintains an inspection system that is equivalent to that of the United States.
We maintain these strict standards of government inspection so that consumers worldwide have the safest food available.
We know from our experience that strong regulatory cooperation between Australia and the United States creates a trust that allows us to trade with one another with confidence. That trust between countries is enhanced by reliance on science and transparency.
To further build on the trust in the safety of U.S. products, FSIS focuses much of our efforts on building accountability internally and promoting transparency with our partners across the globe.
Modernization, in my mind, means more than implementing major policy changes, although that is part of it. To me, it also means reviewing and evaluating processes already in place to see if maybe we just need some simple adjustments.
As we work to achieve our food safety mission, it’s important that we hold ourselves accountable.
In 2013, we established a Strategic Performance Working Group (SPWG) to perform reviews and develop ideas within the Agency to improve our overall performance.
This working group, which brings together employees from headquarters and the field, is a great example of what we can do when we bring together a diverse workforce made up of folks with a wealth of knowledge, and they are good at what they do. Their discussions are critical because they directly impact our success as an agency.
Most recently, the group focused on controlling STEC products after discovering that the number of STEC illnesses in the United States had increased in the past 18 months.
After holding meetings with FSIS personnel from the field and headquarters, we identified that improving sanitary dressing procedures would be an effective way to reduce STEC illnesses associated with FSIS regulated products.
As a result, we plan to focus on enhancing our training and compliance guidance for proper sanitary dressing procedures for both in-plant and industry personnel.
We also began co-analyzing samples for Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7 in July of last year.
This data will allow us to estimate the prevalence of Salmonella in ground beef and help us determine if we need to revise our performance standards to better protect public health.
During the same time, we began analyzing Salmonella on imported beef.
This will allow FSIS to get a better indication of the presence and the characteristics of Salmonella in imported products.
Our Strategic Performance Working Group receives feedback from employees as well as industry representatives to ensure that a broad spectrum of audiences can contribute to the development of these plans. I appreciate the role that industry plays in this dialogue and encourage those conversations to continue. We really get valuable feedback from it.
Another example of our efforts to reduce STECs is the proposed rule we announced in July of 2014, which would require that retail outlets keep clear records on sources for ground beef products.
We are in the process of reviewing the comments received on this rule and developing a document to submit for final approval. We hope to finalize that this year.
We believe this will help improve traceback capabilities and prevent foodborne illness.
In addition, we announced new expedited traceback and traceforward procedures in August that will allow FSIS to trace contaminated ground beef to its source more quickly, by conducting immediate investigations at businesses whose ground beef tests positive for E. coli O157:H7 during initial testing, and at suppliers that provided source materials.
FSIS is committed to using new procedures and modern technology to help us remove unsafe product from commerce much faster than ever before.
Public Health Information System (PHIS)
In the 21st century, we have more tools at our disposal than ever before to help us research, analyze, document, and communicate with one another.
FSIS inspectors generate an enormous amount of data through their inspection activities and through sampling and we use this data to inform our policies and improve public health.
To that end, we’ve also launched and have continued to improve the Public Health Information System, or PHIS, an advanced comprehensive electronic database that enables the agency to more effectively identify public health trends and food safety violations.
PHIS informs us how plants are performing, allowing us to detect problems sooner, and address them before they lead to an outbreak.
While we do everything we can to prevent foodborne illness, there are certainly things consumers can also do to protect themselves from getting sick. So for this reason, we also spend a great deal of time on educating consumers.
In fact, we just recently released our FoodKeeper application, which is available for Android and Apple smart phones and tablets.
The application is part of a larger effort between USDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency called the U.S. Food Waste Challenge to reduce food waste.
By explaining how the shelf life of products change depending on their storage method, users are able to choose the storage method that will keep products fresher longer than if they were not stored properly.
The app provides information to ensure that food is still fresh enough to eat, protecting consumers and their loved ones from foodborne illness.
Protecting public health requires meaningful collaboration among regulators, industry, stakeholder groups, and the public, as well as international partners. The impacts of this collaboration are even more significant as our food supply becomes increasingly global.
Our respective national food safety systems must be based in science, our regulatory processes must be transparent and we have to work together to protect the public that we serve.
Countries should also actively participate in the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the international body that carefully develops food safety standards and provides us with strong evidence upon which to base many of our policies.
We cannot meet our constituents’ expectations, or our international trade obligations, if we do not take Codex standards into account when developing domestic food safety policies that have international impact.
But as technology and science evolve, the value of relationships and face-to-face meetings, like those that we will have at this conference, has not diminished. That’s why I am happy to travel such a long distance to be with you today.
Strong relationships, and the opportunity for people at high levels of government to observe other inspection systems, remain crucial to ensuring global food safety.
USDA and FSIS are committed to working closely and transparently with our stakeholders, including foreign governments and industry to make sure the policies we put forward are firmly rooted in the best science that is available.
Again, I’d like to thank Beef Australia for hosting this event, all of those in attendance, and finally the sponsors for the opportunity to speak with you this morning. Enjoy the rest of the conference.