Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza and Food Safety
Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza and Food Safety
Remarks as prepared for delivery by Alfred V. Almanza, Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, United States – Chile:
Symposium on Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza and Food Safety, Santiago, Chile, March 31, 2016
Good morning, everyone. It’s great to be here in Chile. I’m glad to have the chance to speak with you today along with my colleague, Ed Avalos, from our Marketing and Regulatory Programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Thank you to Chile’s Ministry of Agriculture for inviting us down here to talk about the intersection of highly pathogenic avian influenza and food safety policy and the recent experiences to ensure the safe supply of food in the United States.
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. 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 the United States meets both the equivalent U.S. food safety requirements as well as the food safety requirements of the exporting country.
For products that are exported from the United States, we know that the “inspected by USDA” mark means a safe and high quality product for consumers, and we take that responsibility very seriously.
Just two weeks ago, President Bachelet and Secretary Tom Vilsack talked about the strength of our partnership and the importance of bilateral agriculture trade. In their discussion, Secretary Vilsack praised President Bachelet for Chile’s innovation and partnership with United States universities to advance research goals for both countries. Secretary Vilsack and President Bachelet also discussed ideas for future collaboration in agricultural innovation.
Together, our countries share the expertise and the skills to meet a common goal of food safety between participating countries and FSIS’ statutory mission to protect public health.
I know one of the reasons that we are here today is discuss Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) and how it has affected trade.
The most important priority for us is that the poultry that we import and the poultry that we export is safe and wholesome before it is put into commerce. Ed touched on an overview of that situation and I know that Dr. Davidson will follow me to speak about it with greater detail. And you will also hear from Mr. Ryan Edwards and Mr. Keith Gilmore of my Agency on how the Food Safety and Inspection Service stands prepared for ensuring the safety supply of food during outbreaks of HPAI.
Modernization of Food Safety Policy
FSIS is focused on continuing 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 is the foundation to preventing contamination and 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.
In the past few years, we have focused significantly on policies and measures. The Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Rule, published in 2014, is now in effect. Since February 2015, the rule has required that all poultry facilities are required to perform their own microbiological testing at two points in their production process to show that they are controlling enteric pathogens (e.g., Salmonella and Campylobacter). In addition, the rule provides that enteric pathogens are hazards that are reasonably likely to occur in poultry and must be addressed in the establishment’s HACCP system. Finally, the rule provides the option for plants to operate under a new inspection system, called the New Poultry Inspection System, or NPIS.
NPIS requires poultry companies to sort their own product for quality defects before presenting it to FSIS inspectors. The system allows for inspectors to focus less on routine quality assurance tasks that have little relationship to preventing pathogens and instead focus more on strategies that are proven to strengthen food safety.
This past January, we also published new final standards for Salmonella and Campylobacter in ground chicken and turkey products, as well as in raw chicken breasts, legs, and wings.
USDA expects these actions to prevent as many as 50,000 foodborne illnesses annually.
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.
We want industry and our international partners to work with us to look at where improvements can be made internally at establishments to reduce pathogens.
That trust between countries is enhanced by reliance on science and transparency. Trust allows countries to trade with one another with confidence.
We appreciate Chile’s meat and poultry product exports to the United States and we also are interested in expanding market access in Chile for U.S. meat and poultry.
Last year, I signed a Memorandum of Understanding with our partners in Chile to further emphasize the partnership and shared goals between our two countries.
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.
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, so too must our food safety system and policies. The value of our 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.
Thank you for hosting this event and I hope you enjoy the rest of the HPAI-Food Safety seminar.