U.S. Meat Export Federation Board of Directors Meeting
Remarks before U.S. Meat Export Federation, Board of Directors Meeting
Remarks as prepared for delivery by Alfred V. Almanza, U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) Board of Directors Meeting, May 22, 2015, San Antonio, TX
Good morning. It’s great to be here in San Antonio.
What you do here at USMEF is so important for U.S. trade, our relationships with other countries, and the ability of those countries to gain access to the safest meat and poultry supply in the world.
Your work is evidence of a strong international commitment to science-based food safety policies that protect public health and facilitate trade.
As many of you know, I lead the Food Safety and Inspection Service, which 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, 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.
Just last week, I attended Australia’s National Beef Exposition, where I was able to learn more about the Australian meat market and talk to many Australian Government officials and industry leaders about the importance of fostering an equal trade relationship.
The Australian delegates told me that the way the United States defines food safety is paramount to their country’s understanding of food safety.
We know that the “inspected by USDA” mark means a safe and high quality product for consumers, and we take that responsibility very seriously.
I know that there are some substantial challenges for U.S. access to various markets, such as China and Russia.
I want to assure you that one of my greatest priorities is to build relationships with these countries so we can assure they adhere to our food safety standards and also open doors to trade.
To be successful with export markets that have significant barriers, it’s important to establish credibility and gain trust from the other country.
My career at FSIS has taught me to listen to the concerns on the other sides of the table.
As a former food inspector and labor management specialist with the agency, I know that understanding the issues in the field are important to all of these countries so that we can work together and make improvements.
I’ve worked closely with AQSIQ Deputy Director General Bi in China and Dr. Dankvert of the Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance in Russia.
In 2013, AQSIQ requested a list of categories of U.S. meat products for exports to China.
AQSIQ Deputy Director General Bi noted that while the Chinese trust the U.S. system, there are still disagreements about processing standards in China.
I personally provided AQSIQ with a list of ready-to-eat (RTE) products including deli meats, hot dogs, sausages canned and dried products, cured meats and products with meat and eggs during my visit to Beijing last July and explained that these products are contained in the FSIS export establishment application forms.
Since that meeting, I have explained in subsequent discussions with AQSIQ that U.S. controls regarding the use of imported meats and meat derived from imported animals are effective and can be sourced back to a country of origin should the need arise.
Furthermore, I explained that no product can be produced without first developing a HACCP program under one of five FSIS HACCP plans.
Since RTE lists require regular updates, I recommended that Deputy Director General Bi consider using the FSIS Establishment Application for Export to inform AQSIQ of processed meat establishments that are eligible for export to China.
Informally, Bi said he was open to the idea, but no decision has been made.
In my opinion, progress will follow our audits for processed poultry of Chinese origin that are currently underway.
I know many of you are also interested in the recent Chinese de-listings of U.S. plants and that these can be major setbacks for your companies.
China has delisted 33 U.S. establishments since 2007 for a wide variety of reasons.
FSIS has reached out to each U.S. establishment cited and worked to verify that the necessary corrective actions were implemented.
I would like to especially acknowledge the support we have received from MEF to encourage each establishment to respond to FSIS with detailed information.
FSIS staff has prepared detailed responses for AQSIQ’s review on each establishment documenting what has been done and requesting that these establishments be relisted, based on FSIS’s own review, immediately.
I have sent one letter regarding some of our poultry establishments to China and expect to send letters regarding pork and other products shortly.
While we understand the urgency in getting these establishments relisted, it was very important for FSIS to verify the necessary corrective actions to ensure AQSIQ’s support for our request to relist these establishments.
I assure you that I will follow up with AQSIQ shortly to ensure a favorable response.
On that note, I think it is important to foster strong communication with our partners by offering necessary guidance that, in turn, builds trust and understanding.
Modernization and Prevention
That trust between countries is enhanced by reliance on science and transparency. Trust allows countries to trade with one another with confidence.
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.
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.
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.
Strong regulatory cooperation 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
We look forward to working with our 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.
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.
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.
Your work is invaluable to us and we will keep working with you to address technical access issues.
I’d like to thank all of you at USMEF for hosting this event and all of your work to develop international markets for U.S. beef, pork, lamb, and veal. If there are any questions, I’m happy to take them now.