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Senator LEVIN. It will indeed.
TESTIMONY OF STANLEY J. EMERLING, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF MEAT PURVEYORS 1
Mr. EMERLING. NAMP appreciates the opportunity. Our members are primarily processors of red meat products for the food service industry and we support a strong and efficient meat and poultry inspection system that maintains public confidence in these products.
I would like to respond to the four issues that you asked me to address, the first being the adequacy of the current inspection proc
We are confident that the law is adequate to assure the public that their meat and poultry products are safe. We are confident that FSIS is dedicated to making this happen.
Dr. Houston and his staff recognize the great trust placed with them and handle this responsibility very well though at times they are hampered by budgetary restraints and personnel considerations.
NAMP supports FSIS's efforts to upgrade the inspection work force with better trained and qualified personnel in the areas of microbiology, and we endorse their efforts to change from a system based on sight, touch and smell to systems scientifically designed to measure and assess microbial and bacterial contamination.
We support an animal identification program.
Though not directly related to food safety but to quality, NAMP has made several efforts, including the "Meat Buyers Guide" which outlines meat products as envisioned through the Institutional Meat Purchase Specifications, and we have campaigned continuously for strong grading standards and have worked to try to prevent the lessening of those standards.
The "Meat Buyers Guide," incidentally, has been credited with changing the distribution system of red meat from carcass to boxed product and thereby helping to promote more extensive use of these meat products at lower cost.
With regard to your second question as to a recommendation on how to improve the quality and effectiveness of inspection, we have several.
The first, to provide a continuum of surveillance over meat and poultry products after they leave inspected establishments until they reach the retail use level.
USDA does not presently know the names or total number of non-inspected companies who may be dealers or distributors of meat and poultry products. USDĂ has also declared itself inadequate to police State maintained inspection systems and custom exempt facilities and has through its rule-making process without external evaluation of the impact of these decisions decreed that these systems should be returned to State and local supervision. We feel this is a contradiction of the congressional intent that all meat and poultry be equal to Federal standards of compliance.
1 See p. 123 for Mr. Emerling's prepared statement.
This may be a rather large job, but if food safety is the key, then because meat or poultry is not ultimately judged safe by present day standards until it has been utilized by consumers, there should be adequate safeguards and compliance oversight to assure a continuum of this food safety.
Secondly, we have another suggestion. It is our opinion that safer and more nutritious and economical meat supplies for the consumers should not be compromised either by resistance to change due to union activity or by personality conflicts that may arise between regulatory and plant personnel.
We would like to see established an independent office within USDA that will function in an ombudsman-like capacity. The purpose of such an office would be to review and moderate disagreements between inspected establishments and FSIS personnel.
The ombudsman office would prevent situations such as a number of members are having on the local levels in obtaining inspector cooperation and assistance in efforts to join in these new and improved food safety quality assurance programs. The allegation has been that this resistance is due to the inspectors union's policy which is designed to prevent implementation of new programs that might eventually reduce the number of their jobs.
Companies are reluctant about raising this issue due to the concerns about creating even greater difficulties for themselves with their inspectors. We are now concerned about this same problem as the agency prepares to establish guidelines and profiles in companies to assess their eligibility under the new discretionary inspection or being placed under even more rigid supervision, depending on the individual company's risk assessment.
We do not feel FSIS should be required to deal both with collective bargaining and its possible effects upon food safety programs, but should devote its full manpower and energy to create a system to provide the absolute best meat and poultry safety programs possible.
Going on to item 3, the views on the-
Senator LEVIN. Mr. Emerling, we are going to have to ask you to summarize, if you would, the balance of your statement. Can you try to summarize just in a sentence or two each of the remaining items that you have?
Mr. EMERLING. We endorse the present PQC and DI initiatives, but this is only part of the problem.
The proper handling by commercial or individual users of meat and poultry products is the real key to solving the salmonella problem. If the products are mishandled and contaminated by retailers or consumers through improper handling from ignorance, the problem will not be resolved.
With reference to the education, that's the bottom line of the efforts. We in the industry know we have to upgrade the way we do things. We seek to assure the highest degree of food safety, but that's just the first step. After that to maintain the product's integrity, food handlers, retail clerks and consumers must not only know the rules of food safety, but they must practice them. It must not be left to chance.
It is increasingly more important that we have this information especially as the demographics of our country change and new cultures' languages become more prevalent.
Mr. Chairman, this would conclude a synopsis of my testimony, and we appreciate your interest in our comments.
Senator LEVIN. Well, we appreciate your understanding of our situation and your entire statement, sir, will be placed in the record.
Senator LEVIN. First, Mr. Emerling. The GAO testified earlier this morning that the FSIS does not maintain data on a plant-byplant basis in terms of compliance with regulations, and it was specifically stated this applies to meat and poultry both by one of our witnesses.
Do your industry organizations keep that data?
Mr. EMERLING. Well, each plant is required to keep it. A file is kept by each inspector within each plant based on that inspector's knowledge and a surveillance of what has happened on a day-today basis if it be on slaughtering and day-to-day on processing. So there is a file and each company is required to maintain records and also send them into the department.
Senator LEVIN. Were you here this morning when we had that testimony about the lack of data to make it possible to make a plant-by-plant quality assurance assessment?
Mr. EMERLING. Yes, I was.
Senator LEVIN. Do you disagree with that testimony?
Mr. EMERLING. I think they were looking at a different perspective on that. It's a question of whether the plant is being monitored and there is data being kept on the plant or whether in fact that data when it's reviewed by USDA assesses whether their inspectors are efficient or not.
Senator LEVIN. There was both I think. There was both that was lacking.
Mr. EMERLING. Well, I'm not conversant with the slaughter operation because primarily our members are processors and that's a different degree.
Senator LEVIN. Mr. Allen, do you have any comment on that testimony we heard earlier this morning about the lack of data to make a plant-by-plant assessment?
Mr. ALLEN. Each facility does keep records as USDA requires. Senator LEVIN. Do you disagree with the GAO testimony in that regard? Were you here to hear it, first of all?
Mr. ALLEN. First of all, yes, I did hear the testimony.
Mr. ALLEN. Do I disagree with the testimony?
Senator LEVIN. In that regard.
Mr. ALLEN. Not totally, Senator, but the information that is kept in the plants by the inspector-in-charge who is a veterinarian is required, and they do keep a lot of data in the slaughter operation. Senator LEVIN. Senator Cohen.
Senator COHEN. Mr. Allen, just for the record, I should indicate that I do eat chicken, a lot of it.
Mr. ALLEN. Thank you, Senator.
Senator COHEN. I continue to do so, and I hope that Senator Bumpers and Senator Pryor continue to eat Maine lobster.
Senator LEVIN. And I eat both. [Laughter.]
Senator COHEN. What I wanted to point out is you have presented some very positive testimony today and, frankly, I think that both you and Mr. Emerling should welcome this hearing.
Mr. ALLEN. We do, Senator.
Senator COHEN. It has been seen somehow as targeting your specific industries, when in fact, there have been charges out there, and whether they are true or false or substantiated or unsubstantiated, they are out there, and it has had a negative impact. I think that's fair to say.
My point is, you should welcome this opportunity in a public forum in which we have at least the means of communicating_to thousands, if not millions of people, your side of the story, and I think that that is something that has been overlooked during the course of the morning. You should welcome this opportunity. Mr. ALLEN. We do, indeed, Senator.
Senator COHEN. What I wanted to point out or at least ask you a couple of questions about, is whether you believe that we should replace this bird-by-bird inspection? I think you indicated we ought to do away with that. Do we need any Federal inspectors on the line, in your judgment, to make a physical inspection of the chickens or meat?
Mr. ALLEN. We do need to replace bird-by-bird inspection.
Senator COHEN. What does that mean? Do you mean just take them off the line, and we don't need to have Federally paid employees to inspect birds?
Mr. ALLEN. No, I think we need to have, and I think the industry would welcome continued support from USDA in the regulation of meat products. Again, it's the concern of the industry that we produce wholesome products for consumers.
Senator COHEN. Í understand that and I don't question that. What I want to know is, in your judgment, do we need to have Federal inspectors on the line examining birds physically?
Mr. ALLEN. Not bird-by-bird.
Senator COHEN. Well, every other bird or every 10 birds? Why do you need Federal inspectors at all doing this job?
Mr. ALLEN. Well, to have the confidence in the product quality that we have generated. Again, the companies with branding their products are concerned about the product quality.
Senator COHEN. But you're just as concerned about putting out a bruised bird into the market with your label on it, aren't you? You don't want that out there.
Mr. ALLEN. No, I do not.
Senator COHEN. So you can take care of that.
Mr. ALLEN. Yes, I can.
Senator COHEN. So what you're saying is you don't really need a Federal inspector on the line to take a look at the physical deformities or bruises or problems with the bird esthetically.
Mr. ALLEN. That's correct.
Senator COHEN. So you would recommend that we eliminate it altogether.
Mr. ALLEN. That we eliminate bird-by-bird, yes.
Senator COHEN. And just leave it up to the companies to establish their own quality control.
Mr. ALLEN. Well, I'm afraid to get into speculation as to the types of system because there is a lot of research out there really yet to be developed, and I caution that we don't get into too rapid legislation to do something that we really should not do.
The system we have in inspection is a fine-tuned machine, and what we want to do is fine-tune it and make it even better and to do the things that we want to do for consumer health.
Senator COHEN. But why fine-tune a machine if you can eliminate that facet of it which is unnecessary? Why keep Federal inspectors on the line at all if there is no merit to having them physically there to inspect the birds?
Mr. ALLEN. The quality of products have grown and been enhanced through husbandry practices, through vaccination programs and through industry using science and technology to do things that we used to do years ago. We're plateauing as we go along.
Senator COHEN. I agree with you. What I'm asking you is if that's the case, why do we have inspectors at all on the line?
Mr. ALLEN. Í think that was Dr. Houston's concern, too. That's a good question and that's what we are evaluating I hope.
Senator COHEN. And you would agree that if we go to this new speeding up of line production to maximize production rates because that's what you're in business to do, three birds a second, very few human beings can do much in the way of looking at a bird on the way by other than looking at it on the way by, right? Mr. ALLEN. The three birds a second, and we've listened to that this morning, I think is misleading. The most efficient line is the SIS at 35 per minute per inspector, two inspectors on a line running 70 birds a minute. The most efficient inspection program today is that program called the SIS program, and these inspectors each look at within one minute 35 birds maximum.
The inspector-in-charge who is a veterinarian can slow those lines down if he is not satisfied with the performance of industry, and he can slow you down to a crawl or he can stop, make you stop, and that's the financial incentive. He can condemn your product and he has a multitude of reasons for which he can do that. He's responsible, he's accountable and those were the financial incentives that you asked about earlier.
Senator COHEN. And what has been the experience of the industry, if you can speak for the industry generally, about the relation of those inspectors who can shut down the line, or slow the line down, or toss out birds, or threaten to cite a particular plant with some sort of punitive action?
Mr. ALLEN. The responsibility of USDA is explicit and the responsibility of management is explicit, too. We look at it as a twoway street. They have to live with us and we have to live with them. And we have progressed through the years because of this attitude.
The industry listens. We don't always agree, but we listen and we'll sit down and we'll discuss what their outlook is and how they view things and how they view new programs and how the industry looks at things and views new programs and the impacts of those recommendations.