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Mr. LEONARD. Senator, the Department has authority to clean up this whole situation. They don't need new legislation. They can do what they are proposing to do without asking Congress to take away the continuous inspection program. It's not a tradeoff. It's not one or the other. They've got the authority to do it now. That's what they're doing over there on the Eastern Shore. They are testing this out.
Senator PRYOR. Let me switch, if I could, back to my friend, Mr. Blaylock, because I want to ask Mr. Blaylock about what his position is on increasing the number of bodies for inspection, the number of employees. Is that your position, that you want more employees in the inspection area? Is that correct, or do you want a different type of inspection?
Mr. BLAYLOCK. What we're saying, Senator-we address that. We say the agency should be looking at getting more people on the front line rather than spending so much on the administrative and overhead positions. That's one point we made in the testimony. And let me try to clarify
Senator PRYOR. You're talking about on-line inspectors now?
Mr. BLAYLOCK. Well, let me try to clarify where we're at on the line, and I think it is a responsibility of this committee and the Congress to be satisfied, and if you look at the Academy report, and I know because I read through a piece of it last night, the Academy report says we need to go to an inspection process, a different process that finds, you know, that detects these new hazards that we have in the food chain, but they don't give you a recommendation as to what it ought to be, and I'm saying you need to be satisfied.
Now if they got whatever this new process is back, and say they just went to sampling, they would tell you the same thing, Senator. We can't scientifically say this protects the public.
So you've got to look at it. I'm not trying to side step this question and, Mr. Chairman, in all due respect, you said a minute ago you can't have both. You've either got to have on-line inspection
Senator LEVIN. No, I didn't say that. I said assuming you can't have both.
Mr. BLAYLOCK. Okay. I just don't even want to assume that because I think it's the responsibility of this Congress to protect the public, and if you determine that we need a new process, then that's what we ought to have. If you determine that it's going to take more people, that's what we ought to have. If you have to find a way to finance it, my God, a half a mill per chicken out there would flood the whole industry with inspectors. So financing it is not a problem.
To me it's addressing the needs of protecting the public, but nobody has defined it yet. We will support any inspection process that does protect the public. We are not worried about the jobs. You've got all these plants out there and you've got to have people, whether they're doing sampling, whether they're looking at every sixth bird or however, but then you're going to have to be assured that the public is protected.
Senator PRYOR. Mr. Blaylock, we're all looking for the same thing. We're looking for a way to have the most wholesome, nutri
tious products in the whole world and the most wholesome that we can possibly reach.
We are not side stepping you. I think you're side stepping us. What is your recommendation here today? What are you recommending, more people?
Mr. BLAYLOCK. I'm not a scientist and I'm not a food inspector, Senator, and I know you are not either.
First off, that is the responsibility of Dr. Houston and the management of this agency to come to this Congress and say to you we've got these problems and here are ways to change it that will address the problem. So far they have not done that.
Now you asked about this 58 percent salmonella thing. That came from Dr. Houston in that "60 Minutes" interview. He was the one that said he was not surprised at all at 58 percent of the chickens in this country had salmonella. He made that statement. That's where we got it from. So they have not addressed the problem.
As I went through my litany a while ago, every change that has occurred has occurred to increase productivity over the years, speeding up the line, speeding up the gutting machine, going to mirrors behind the bird so the people supposedly can see more. Nothing has happened out of this agency and they need Congressional authority to find new ways to protect the public.
We're arguing that they are not doing that and what they're proposing to you right now is not doing that. We think that's their responsibility. These inspectors perhaps could tell you some other ways, but they are not scientists or doctors either.
Mr. DEVINE. Senator, if I could offer the inspector's perspective that we've taken affidavits from. I've taken statements from about 35 whistleblowers from industry and USDA over the last few years and have talked to about three times that many.
They certainly agree they can't see the salmonella germs, but they insist that if they were permitted to they could see the fecal contamination that the salmonella lives in. And more than any other recommendation when I asked them what can we do to help, they say stop washing away the evidence of salmonella because you're not washing away the germs.
I think that's an issue that the NAS didn't really address, that maybe visual inspection would be more effective if we would stop making it impossible to see the symptoms of the germs that are there.
Senator PRYOR. Mr. Murphy.
Mr. MURPHY. I could make a recommendation. It's not going to eliminate salmonella, but I think it would certainly cut down on salmonella, and that is simply to go back to where we trim. If it's trimable, that we trim this fecal contamination off, trim it off. If it's down in the cavity to the point where you can't trim it off, you can save the legs, wings and the breast muscle tissue, instead of washing it, trying to wash it off.
The membrane inside of a chicken, when fecal contamination hits it, is similar to taking scotch tape and turning it inside out and putting say cigarette ashes on it and then trying to wash it off. Senator PRYOR. Here we are. See, we're once again back on poultry. [Laughter.]
I see every one of you talking about chickens. Well, not Mr. Gee, I might say, but everyone else is talking about poultry, and that's what I had hoped we wouldn't talk about.
Now I want to ask my friend, Mr. Blaylock, a final question here. You represent 700,000 Federal employees. Now what have you said about expanding the food inspection program over in Food and Drug to fish? What have you said on this?
Mr. BLAYLOCK. What have I said on what?
Senator PRYOR. On expanding food inspection to fish or other areas that are not inspected now.
Mr. BLAYLOCK. My comment, Senator, was that we have and you have a responsibility to protect the American public. You made a statement that every time you had gotten food poisoning, except once, it was from fish.
Senator PRYOR. That was Dale Bumpers I think.
Mr. BLAYLOCK. Maybe it was Dale, but I agree with you totally. You know, if there is a problem in that industry, then I think the Government has a responsibility to protect the public. It's a changing world and we have a lot of new problems.
Senator PRYOR. Has your organization come out in favor of expanding food inspection for fish?
Mr. BLAYLOCK. We haven't taken a position on that. We had no reason to take a position. We take a position that we ought to be doing those things we need to do to protect the public, and if you need more people, fine. You may not need more people if you come up with the right process. We'll support that if you're sure it's the right process.
Senator PRYOR. I'm pretty amazed to hear that.
Mr. BLAYLOCK. Why?
Senator PRYOR. Because of the evidence of salmonella in fish products not being inspected today. Yet you come here and say you need to increase the inspections for meat and especially poultry, and just leave unprotected the rest of the consumers that eat fish. Mr. BLAYLOCK. I missed the point of your question. If you're saying there is a serious problem in that industry, I'm saying to you we ought to be doing something about it, and if that means expanding the system, you've got my support.
Senator PRYOR. Mr. Chairman, thank you. This has been a marathon.
Senator LEVIN. Just one suggestion on this very critical issue of the inspection that we've talked about. Anyone on this panel that has a position on that issue as you study the reports and recommendations, if we are going to move from a visual to a systemic type of inspection with whatever resources we have, if-if we're put in that position and can't just increase the numbers but have to allocate them one way or another, I think you ought to get hold of the FSIS with some kind of a statement on that issue, because they are in the process of making that decision, and we would appreciate a copy of anything that you forward to them in that area because we are going to have to respond to any recommendation in that area.
That's a legislative issue, a very critical legislative issue that we're going to face, by the way, and it can affect an awful lot of people. It sounds technical and it is, but it becomes a legislative
change required if we're going to change the requirements relative to inspection. So we have a serious decision to make. Again, probably not this committee. We have an oversight function and not the direct legislative function, but our report and recommendation on this, since we got into it so deeply this morning, I think would be given great weight by the committee that does have the direct legislative jurisdiction on it.
We thank all of you for coming and for your patience, particularly those of you who have come a long distance.
We will stand adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 2:05 p.m., the Subcommittee adjourned, subject to the call of the Chair.]
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL SUBMITTED FOR THE RECORD
Donald L. Houston
Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service
Committee on Governmental Affairs
Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management
May 15, 1987
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, I am pleased to appear before you to discuss productivity within the Food Safety and Inspection Service. We recognize that our number one priority is to provide consumers with a safe and wholesome meat and poultry supply. But we also recognize our responsibility to the American taxpayers, to ensure that their tax dollars are well-spent.
Today I will present an overview of the inspection program, including a description of our organizational structure, the changes we have made to modernize our program, the methods we use to ensure that inspection is carried out effectively, and our plans for the future.
We realized long ago the potential for modernization and increased productivity within the inspection program. Over the last two decades, the agency has felt the pressure to change from all sides, and we have had to respond.
Some of the loudest calls for change have come from a modernized meat and poultry industry. Productivity is on the rise, as industry has taken advantage
of technological advances. Improved animal husbandry has resulted in better animal health. Particularly in poultry, there is more un formity in the birds presented for slaughter. Plants are using sophisticated technology, many plant operators recognizing the benefits that can be reaped from tighter control over their own production through use of quality control systems.
Pressure to modify the inspection program also came from Congress. While our budget has experienced a 12-fold increase over the past 25 years--from $30.5 million in 1960 to about $374 million in 1987, our costs have risen even faster.