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So I am indeed proud to introduce a man who has been a dedicated State and community leader. He takes his position responsibly, and I think he can shed a great deal of light on the questions before this panel.
So it's with pleasure that I introduce Chick Allen.
Mr. ALLEN. Thank you, Senator. I appreciate that fine introduction.
Senator LEVIN. Mr. Allen, I'm wondering if you can summarize as much as possible because of the hour and make yourself available for questions, and Mr. Emerling also. We would appreciate a summary of that testimony.
Mr. ALLEN. Yes, Senator. We have a summary of the testimony and would ask that our testimony, the full text, be part of the record.
Senator LEVIN. It will indeed, and we appreciate that.
Mr. ALLEN. Thank you, sir.
TESTIMONY OF CHARLES C. ALLEN III, PRESIDENT, ALLEN FAMILY FOODS, REPRESENTING THE NATIONAL BROILER COUNCIL,1 ACCOMPANIED BY GARY JAY KUSHNER, LEGAL COUNSEL, AND MAHLON A. BURNETTE III, PH.D., TECHNICAL ADVISOR
MR. ALLEN. My name is Charles Allen III, and I am the President of Allen Family Foods in Cordova, Maryland, and a member of the Board of Directors of the National Broiler Council, and appear today on behalf of that organization. NBC is the trade organization of chicken producers and processors.
Accompanying me is NBC's legal counsel to my left, Gary Jay Kushner, and we have our technical advisor, Dr. Mahlon Burnette with us also.
In the 30 years since poultry inspection was first mandated, the technology involved in poultry slaughter and processing has advanced beyond anyone's expectations. With the help of science, the poultry inspection system has also evolved in an attempt to keep pace with the strides made in poultry production.
As the National Academy of Science has reported earlier this week, we are at a crossroads. The time has come for the inspection system to take the next major step in modernization to allow industry to assume even greater responsibility for product quality and to permit the establishment of a risk based inspection system that most efficiently and effectively utilizes inspection resources.
When mandatory inspection began one or more USDA inspectors on each chicken processing line each manually and visually inspected one bird at a time. In 1979 the system was changed to what is called modified traditional inspection with three inspectors on each line examining different areas of each bird.
Today with chicken processors performing the majority of product quality checks, USDA has been able to reduce the number of inspectors to two under its streamlined inspection system. In each step industry has accepted more responsibility for sorting birds and
1 See p. 111 for Mr. Allen's prepared statement.
rejecting defective ones and USDA's inspection resources were more efficiently and effectively utilized.
Industry sorting with USDA oversight is the inspection approach forming the conceptual foundation for what is known as the third generation of inspection, an experimental system currently being tested by the Department in one pilot plant. That system relies on computer recordkeeping and data comparison as well as direct visual supervision by USDA.
Recently the progression away from the traditional labor intensive inspection has been criticized. Instead of continuing to move into the future, certain USDA inspectors would prefer that the inspection evolution stop or even reverse.
Frankly, certain inspectors and their unions in fear of losing jobs to technology and progress have tried to convince the public that the system's effectiveness has declined. Nothing can be further from the truth. Indeed, none of the changes in poultry inspection has been implemented without thorough laboratory and field testing, and no changes have been instituted which were found not to provide the same or higher level of public protection.
Although the current inspection system has served us well, it focuses on the detection of sanitation and visually displeasing defects of birds and does not take full advantage of scientific advancements that facilitate the detection of microbial and chemical contamination. No USDA line inspection system has ever been able to do this, and no amount of visual inspection ever will.
What is needed is a modern system which utilizes statistical quality control and quality assurance procedures in order to protect the public in the most efficient and economical manner possible.
In the report released this week NAS recommended that USDA use risk assessment procedures in order to focus its activities on those controls with the greatest potential to reduce risk and prevent food borne illnesses.
In addition, the NAS committee recommended that the current system should be modernized. This would require the introduction of a comprehensive quality assurance system and the elimination of bird-by-bird visual inspection.
Such a system would employ statistical sampling, specify quality control checks and quality assurance tests designed to detect risks. The NAS committee credited the current inspection system for the public health benefits that it has provided over the years, but recommended that ground work be laid for modernization of this system.
Recognizing the limited role played by USDA inspectors in examining poultry for visual defects and the ability of industry to perform that function, NAS concluded that USDA's inspection resources might be more appropriately focused in areas other than individual examination of every bird.
NBC agrees that the time has come to begin implementation of risk assessment procedures and inspection. Indeed, NBC had recommended to both the NAS committees that consideration be given to the concept of risk based inspection. Through careful study and the cooperation efforts of USDA and the industry a risk based in
spection system ultimately can efficiently and effectively replace bird-by-bird inspection.
Recent media reports have suggested that microbial and bacterial contamination of poultry with salmonella and other microorganisms has increased and that consumption of poultry represents risk of illness.
We appreciate today's opportunity to put this issue into perspective and to provide the members of this Subcommittee with factual information to allay any fears that these sensationalized reports may have created in your constituents.
Salmonella is a bacteria found throughout nature and it is the cause of an intestinal disorder known as salmonellosis. Because it is so prevalent, it can be carried by dust, dirt, insects, reptiles and man. However, the amount of salmonella you normally come in contact with is not great enough to cause illness.
Unfortunately, since this microbe is so widespread, it is also found on raw food products. The same foods that provide a rich source of nutrients for man, including dairy products, meat, poultry, fish, raw vegetables and eggs can become the vehicles for illness if they are mishandled in such a way as to allow salmonella or other organisms to grow to a level where they can cause disease. In fact, the 1985 NAS report cited a study which found that such abuses of meat and poultry products usually occur in food service establishments and within the home. Contrary to recent allegations, data from the Centers of Disease Control would indicate that chicken is neither the major source of salmonellosis nor is the cause of an increase in outbreaks of the disease.
Moreover, the most recent CDC data suggests that chicken is less frequently the cause of salmonellosis than beef, dairy products or even salads and other mixed foods. Despite our success in minimizing illness from this ever present organism, industry in cooperation with USDA is continuing to search for new weapons against salmonella.
The poultry industry is currently involved in the most extensive review of international and scientific literature on salmonella ever undertaken searching for techniques which might be helful. This information will be utilized by one of the country's premier research laboratories to test promising new procedures designed to reduce even further the incidence of salmonella.
The Southeastern Poultry and Egg Association and the National Broiler Council have established special task forces to oversee this research and to collect all that is known now or may be discovered about salmonella prevention and control.
The charge to the NBC task force is to develop guidelines based on this information which will provide every poultry plant, big and small, with the information necessary in order to process birds under the most modern salmonella control procedures. It is by no means unusual for this industry to engage in voluntary efforts designed to enhance the safety wholesomeness and overall quality of our products.
Much of the broiler industry on its own began programs to improve the microbiological quality of products and to control residues long before USDA ever considered the need for such programs.
No matter what the industry does to address this concern, these efforts cannot succeed without the cooperation of consumers. Inadequate cooking, improper holding temperature and poor personal hygiene are responsible for the vast majority of salmonellosis outbreaks.
On the other hand, proper handling and preparation of food products can eliminate almost entirely any risk of illness. That is why it is so important that consumers be told the facts about salmonella and learn their role in ensuring product quality.
The chairman of the NAS committee emphasized this at the press conference on Tuesday, and after summarizing the NAS report he said, and I quote: "What does this mean for consumers? Should they reduce the amount of chicken in their diet in favor of other meats or fish? Our answer is clearly no. Poultry is a nutritious and desirable part of the American diet. We do not want to discourage anyone from eating chicken. We do want consumers to be aware of the problem and to handle and cook chicken properly."
NBC has had an extensive consumer education program for many years. As long ago as 1975 NBC published information for consumers about the proper care and handling of chicken. Most recently NBC published and is widely distributing another consumer handling brochure entitled "Questions and Answers About Chicken and Food Safety." This educational pamphlet specifically addresses the possibility of microbial contamination and includes practical and useful information on cooking and storing temperatures, proper kitchen sanitation, thawing and reheating products and how to handle picnic foods.
This booklet has been distributed in the United States and Canada to food editors, food distributors, public relations agencies and agricultural and farm groups. We are also supplying pamphlets for direct distribution to consumers in the supermarket where they purchase their meat and poultry.
Senator LEVIN. Mr. Allen we are going to have to ask you to summarize the rest of your statement.
Mr. ALLEN. I have a half a page, Senator. May I please?
Senator LEVIN. Would you summarize the half a page because I'm afraid some of us will not be able to ask questions otherwise. Mr. ALLEN. I will summarize for you. Thank you.
Our industry is very willing to assume the responsibility for our product quality. Our brand names are the best guarantees that we can offer. We are proud of what we have accomplished and we make our commitment to continue working with USDA and Congress as we look towards the future to utilize science and technology.
Mr. Chairman, we thank you for the opportunity to come before your committee with this information this morning.
Senator LEVIN. We thank you for your understanding of our time schedule and we assure you that your entire statement will be made a part of the record.
Senator LEVIN. Mr. Emerling we would be most appreciative if you would summarize, and if your summary is long, would you summarize the summary.
Mr. EMERLING. I will do my best, Mr. Chairman. I would hope that the full testimony would be read into the record.
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. USDA 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.