China International Food Safety & Quality (CIFSQ) Conference + Expo
Advancing Food Safety Worldwide
Remarks as prepared for delivery by Alfred V. Almanza, Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, China International Food Safety & Quality (CIFSQ) Conference + Expo, Beijing, China, Nov 4, 2015
Good morning. It’s great to be here in Beijing.
Not much time has passed since my last trip to China about a month ago. Although it is a long trip, each time I make it, I am reminded of how small our world is becoming, and how important international trade truly is.
I want to thank the International Association of Food Protection (IAFP) 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 processed egg products are safe, wholesome and accurately labeled.
At FSIS, we consider the IAFP an important and valuable organization. We share their mission to advance food safety worldwide and we look forward to working with them 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’ statutory mission to protect public health.
My agency’s mission 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 equivalent 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.
Modernization and Prevention
Our goal at FSIS now and for the past few years 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.
This 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 processed 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.
To garner public input, we post both the peer-reviewed risk assessment models and the underlying data on our website. In addition, we post our responses to public comments to illustrate how we in fact utilize these public comments to further strengthen our own risk assessments.
FSIS’ 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 receiving country.
That trust between countries is enhanced by reliance on science and transparency. Trust allows countries to trade with one another with confidence.
To further build on the trust in the safety of U.S. products, FSIS has strengthened performance standards for Salmonella in broilers for the first time since the standards were created; as well as established an entirely new performance standard for Campylobacter.
We expect to prevent as many as 25,000 foodborne illnesses annually thanks to these new, more protective standards. Ladies and gentlemen, this is progress in food safety. These are lives being saved by modernizing food safety.
In January 2015, we proposed new standards to reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter in ground chicken and turkey products as well as raw chicken breasts, legs, and wings.
These proposed standards and our new testing patterns will have a major impact on public health and prevent future illness.
Our new performance standard for chicken parts is a perfect example of the type of proactive, prevention-based food policies that we’re focused on at FSIS…policies that are based on science, supported by strong data, and ones that will truly improve public health.
FSIS is also examining ways to tighten our Salmonella standards for beef and pork to reduce the chance that these products will cause illness.
We want industry to work with us to look at where improvements can be made internally at establishments to reduce pathogens.
We know that China has interest in exporting meat and poultry products to the United States and we also are interested in expanding market access in China for U.S. meat and poultry.
As we move forward in making these decisions, we must remember that they are independent of one another and must be made on the basis of the scientific evidence and in a transparent manner.
Our science-based regulations and sampling programs focus on prevention of foodborne illness and we are specifically analyzing how changes in our current activities will affect pathogen prevention.
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 collects an enormous amount of data. The data that our inspectors generate through their inspection activities, and that is collected through sampling, is used 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, in near real time, 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.
The importance of protecting our citizens’ health and our countries’ economies requires meaningful collaboration among regulators, industry, stakeholder groups, and the public, as well as international partners. The impacts of collaboration at both the government and industry levels are even more significant as our food supply becomes increasingly global.
That’s why all of our food safety systems must be based in science, and why we must be transparent with one another and with the public that we serve.
FSIS places great emphasis on using the best available science to establish its regulations and achieve public health goals.
Countries should 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.
Strong relationships, and the opportunity for people at high levels of government and industry 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 IAFP 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.