We've had a number of companies that have opened the doors, brought in the
media, brought in TV cameras, spent hours of senior management time explaining
our processes, explaining our investment in technology, explaining our advances
in food safety -- only to find when the story airs or is printed, there's none
of that contained in the story.
What's the purpose of AMI?
We are a trade association for the industry. We represent their interests
before the government, both the Congress and the executive branch. We spend
some time interacting with the media, like yourself, on their behalf. We do a
lot of education and training in the area of food-safety and worker safety. We
have an ongoing food safety research program to make our products even safer.
In fact, in the last three years, our members have contributed about $3.5
million to focus on E. coli and listeria-related research. ...
I've been told you're very powerful on [Capitol] Hill.
We're very active on the Hill, because there are a lot of pieces of legislation
that affect our sector of the economy. We're very active with the regulatory
agencies. There are a lot of regulatory agencies that are involved in meat and
poultry processing facilities, involved with our workers, involved with our
environmental standards. So we're active. ...
One of the things that I understand is something that the industry talks
about, and wants to talk about, is what's happened in the price of meat and
beef. If you look over the last 30 years, one statistic that I read said that
the price of beef today is about half, in real dollar terms, what it was in the
1970s. Does that ring true to you?
... Meat is a relative bargain today compared to where it was 10-20 years ago.
How'd you do it? Every other cost has gone up.
It has a lot to do with efficiencies -- doing what we do even better and more
efficiently; ... squeezing costs out of the process; adding value to the
product. America in general is a tremendous food success story. ... We pay the
lowest percentage of our per capita income on food than any country in the
world. In the mid-1980s, it was about 12 percent. Today it's below 9 percent.
And meat, which is a large part of our diet in this country -- meat and poultry
-- is less than 2 percent of our disposable income. That's a great success
story. We have high quality, reliable, abundant, and low-cost food in the
United States. We're very fortunate.
Historically, going back to the early part of the 20th century, we would
raise our animals in the Midwest, ship the live animals to major metropolitan
areas like Kansas City, Omaha, and Chicago -- all of whom still have remnants
of their stockyards today. We would process the animals there; sell them in
sides of beef, carcass form, sides of beef, to local butcher shops. We would
cut them into steaks and roasts and sell them to consumers.
After World War II, two developments occurred. The local butcher shop began to
expand into grocery stores and regional grocery chains. At the same time, we
developed technology to ship refrigerated foods. And with the advent of grocery
stores wanting to buy their meat from a single source, and with the ability to
ship processed meat as opposed to live animals in rail cars, the packing houses
moved out of the metropolitan areas and built new facilities in the heartland,
close to where the animals were being raised. ...
The next significant development in the evolution of the beef industry in the
United States involved the transformation and the transition from shipping
carcasses of beef to shipping boxes of beef. The industry discovered that it
was much more efficient to have the processing continue at the next step in the
meatpacking plant, and reduce the side of beef to a piece of tenderloin, or a
length of New York strip steak, and ship a whole box of tenderloins to a
grocery store that only wanted tenderloins, as opposed to shipping that side of
beef with some parts they may want for their customers, some parts of beef they
may not want for their customers. It allowed us to be more responsive to
the grocery store. It allowed them to be more responsive to their individual
customers and their local markets. And it allowed us to do that at a lower
There is a third major transition, which is occurring even as we speak. It
began about a decade ago, but it's really accelerating in the last year. It's a
natural continuation of the transformation from shipping carcasses to shipping
boxes of beef. We're now going to ship case-ready steaks, case-ready roasts,
which are going to be packaged in consumer units in the meatpacking plants in
the Midwest part of the country.
What do you mean, "case ready"?
Right now, when a box of beef comes in the back of a grocery store, it may
contain six New York strip lengths of steak. The meat cutter in the grocery
store will trim off some additional fat and slice them into one-inch strip
steaks, put them on a Styrofoam tray, overwrap them in some plastic, put the
label on it, and put it in the meat case for the consumer.
That trimming and cutting and packaging into the individual consumer unit is
increasingly occurring in the meatpacking plant. So when the box shows up at
the back of the grocery store today, all the people in the meat department will
have to do is open the box, and there will be the New York strip steak, one
steak in a pack, wrapped and labeled, and just go directly into the case.
Everyone talks about one of the most important things to understand about
the meat industry is how highly concentrated it is -- 84 percent of the
slaughter is controlled by only four companies in beef. Have we gotten back to
the days of the "beef trust"?
... Most business sectors in the United States economy are fairly
concentrated, comprised of three or four market leaders that in general have
about a 60 percent, 70 percent, 80 percent market share. You see that happening
in the banking business, and it's been a long-standing structure in the
automobile industry. ...
So in that regard, in terms of the overall economy of the United States, the
beef industry is not much different in its economic structure. But what is
important to understand is that it is a dynamic, evolving, highly competitive
sector of our nation's agricultural economy. Four companies account for more
than 80 percent of the beef capacity in the United States. Those four
companies, by the way, are the ones who have made beef available at a
significantly lower cost today in real dollars than it was available 20 years
But 30 years ago, only one of those big four were actually in the beef
industry. Within the last 30 years, three of the other big four have actually
grown up as startup companies, or expanded as a result of acquisition, to the
market share levels that they have today.
It's a vibrant competitive industry. If you ask the CEOs of the four largest
beef companies, one concern that they have is the upstart companies that are
coming into the business, the small regional new entries that are coming into
the beef industry, who one day may have the agility, the acumen, and the
competitive instincts to achieve the market share levels that the larger
companies have today.
In this process of concentration, you talk about moving out to where the
animals are. What you've had is not only concentration of the business,
but concentration of the animals themselves. You have these very large feedlots
-- 100,000, 120,000 cattle.
One of the problems scientists talk about is that that concentration of
animals has led to, both in terms of the way the animals are raised, but also
in terms of the grinding of the meat, the problem of E. coli and other
pathogens spreading more widely throughout the industry. ...
Has that been a problem related to that concentration?
I'm not sure that concentration has exacerbated our food-safety concerns in the
beef industry. ... Dealing with pathogens is a significant problem. I'm not
sure that a significant cause is the concentration of cattle feedlots in our
industry. E. coli O157:H7, the primary pathogenic concern within the beef
sector today, 20 years ago that pathogen, if it existed -- and there's some
debate whether it did exist -- was not known. ... We have done a fairly good
job in responding to a pathogen that first became widely known in 1992 or 1993.
We've invested tens of millions of dollars in what we call intervention
strategies, which are basically new technologies that are in place in
beef-processing plants to further reduce the incidence of E. coli in the
beef supply. If you look at USDA test results that go back to the early 1990s
on E. coli O157:H7, you will find a consistent decrease in the incidence
of that pathogen -- which is already at very low levels, but is even at lower
levels between 1994 and 1999. ...
But we still see recalls all the time.
If you look at USDA figures -- and I'm not attempting to minimize the food-safety challenge -- but if you look at USDA figures, the incidence of E.
coli in beef is less than 1 percent. We obviously want it to get to zero
out of every 100 tests. But today it's less than 1 percent. That's a reduction
from as recently as the mid-1990s. So that's progress. And the progress is
attributable to the investments in new technologies that we've implemented in
Part of the challenge is that there are only two technologies available today
that we know in the industry can guarantee that the ground beef is
pathogen-free, E. coli-free, bacteria-free. One is to cook the product.
We sell a lot of precooked ground beef out of our plants. But most of the
ground beef in America is cooked in restaurants or in our own kitchen. That is
one technology, one step that is available, sure-fire.
Cooking as a technology?
As a process. The other technology would be irradiation. Some companies are
irradiating raw ground beef; some have yet to embrace the technology. Some
consumers and retailers -- and frankly, some beef companies -- are concerned
about the market response to that technology. But today there are only two
steps or technologies that we know will eliminate the E. coli in beef. And
that's cooking it properly when we handle the food; or irradiating it before we
purchase the food. That doesn't seem like a particularly good option for the
consumer, that either they have to have the meat irradiated, or they have to
cook it really well done. ...
It's reasonable, as long as we can't get to perfection in terms of the presence
of E. coli in raw uncooked product, raw uncooked hamburger. It's
reasonable to ask the consumer to bear some responsibility for using that
product in a reasonable and safe way. And that means cooking it properly.
But doesn't it seem that there should be a way we could fix it earlier,
[rather] than at the end? Because oftentimes consumers aren't in control of
where the product is cooked, or how it's cooked.
If we have seen the rise of E. coli because of this consolidation,
because of this concentration, and the way that the meat is ground together and
all of that, don't we need to go back there to fix it?
I'm not sure I agree with your premise, that we've seen the rise in E.
coli because of concentration. If you ask microbiologists, some of them
suggest that this strain of E. coli -- which probably did not exist 20
years ago -- mutated as a result of reductions in other competing bacteria that
had been eliminated through advancements and through safety technologies in the
1980s. So I'm not sure it has to do with concentration. And there are other
Ideally, we do want to get to the point where the technologies available in our
plant give us the opportunity, give us the assurance that when we distribute
this product, it is E. coli-free. We've achieved significant progress
toward achieving that goal. The present incidence is less than 1 percent, based
upon government test results.
But as an industry, we do want to get even better. We do want to get closer and
closer, and ultimately to zero risk. ...
One of the ways that people have proposed to improve this situation, given
that E. coli-contaminated beef does get out, is to give the USDA recall
authority. They do not have mandatory recall authority in this day and age.
Doesn't that seem like the minimal protection the consumer deserves?
It seems like a nonevent to us, frankly. USDA, in their 100 years of regulating
the meat industry, cannot point to a single instance where, at their
suggestion, a company refused to initiate a voluntary recall. In fact, the vast
majority of recalls occur in the United States at the instigation of the
company -- they discovered some flaw in the process. They informed the
Department of Agriculture about the flaw. They informed the government about
the recall that they're going to announce.
In a small number of cases, the government, because of the intense regulatory
system under which we operate, may detect a flaw in our system and bring the
flaw to the attention of a company, and request a recall, or suggest a recall.
In every instance where the government has requested a beef-related recall, the
company has voluntarily complied. Now, that does not sound to me like a problem
that needs to be fixed.
Former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman says he thinks that was one of
the most significant problems. Why don't you agree that the government should
have that power? They have the power to recall baby carriages. Why not
contaminated ground beef?
In all due respect to former Secretary Glickman, who may have said lack of
mandatory recall authority is a problem ... there wasn't a single instance
during his tenure at the Department of Agriculture, or during the tenure of any
of his many predecessors at the Department of Agriculture, when the government
became aware of a food-safety related problem involving beef and suggested the
company should consider a recall [and they refused]. ... In every instance, the
company voluntarily recalled the product.
And even if the company were to refuse to voluntarily recall a beef product ...
the government then has the authority under current law to go into the
marketplace and detain that product. They can go into grocery warehouses,
restaurants, retail stores, and pull the product from the marketplace.
But hasn't it been hard in the recalls -- that do take place with some
frequency -- to actually get the meat back? The efficiency of the system has
made it very difficult to get the meat back. By the time we learn about it,
it's too late.
Actually, what occurs in real life when you initiate a recall, because our
records are so thorough and communication technology is so sophisticated, we
can get the information out immediately to our customers. And through our
customers, they in turn can notify the individual consumers.
Your customers being?
Grocery stores, restaurants. Also, if the product is one that has made its way
to consumers, the company issues a press release, and the Department of
Agriculture issues a press release, which we see on occasion in the news. So
consumers can learn through the media if a recall is underway. We inform our
customers, restaurants and grocery stores, immediately that a recall is
underway. [It's a] fairly sophisticated and successful system. ...
I assume you may end up getting back 20 percent of the actual recalled
That may occur in an instance where the company has recalled product at the
request of the government that may have been produced as far back as six
months. But that product has a shelf life of two months, or a month and a half.
It is highly unlikely that a perishable product with a shelf life of two months
is still in the marketplace, or even still in our refrigerators, six months
after it's been processed. ...
So it's not unrealistic, if the government wants to recall product going back
six months, and that product only has a two-month shelf life, only to get about
two months' worth of production back through a recall. The rest has been
consumed. And frequently in some recall situations, consumed without a single
instance of any reported instance. ...
We've seen the salmonella rates going up from the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, up to
the 1990s. We've seen the E. coli and the damage that it's done. Those are
probably two of the most obvious health effects [of the consolidation of the
meat industry]. And there are very high levels of food-borne illness. One in
four Americans sickened some time during the year with food-borne illness, 25
percent to 30 percent of those estimated to be from meat; 5,000 deaths. Those
You mentioned two pathogenic bacteria, E. coli O157:H7, and salmonella. In terms
of the meat and poultry supply, we began testing for E. coli O157:H7 in the
early 1990s, both industry and individual companies, as well as the federal
government as part of the inspection program.
If you look at their data, the incidence of E. coli in all ground beef has
decreased from the early 1990s to the late 1990s. If you look at government
data on salmonella in raw meat and poultry products, it has decreased
dramatically throughout the 1990s.
[According to] the public health data from the Centers for Disease Control ... the incidence of salmonellosis, which is the disease attributed to salmonella, has remained relatively stable,
although it's decreased somewhat, even though we've had a dramatic decrease in
the amount of salmonella on raw meat and poultry products. Salmonellosis has
slightly decreased as a food-borne illness in the United States, largely
attributable to progress made in the shell egg industry in eliminating a
particular strain of salmonella, salmonella [enteritidis], which is uniquely in
Salmonella [on] raw meat, down dramatically this decade. Salmonellosis as a
food-borne illness, down somewhat. Those are good trend lines.
E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef, down significantly in this decade. The incidence
of E. coli-related illness probably about stable, which suggests that just
reducing or eliminating pathogens on raw meat and poultry products, in and of
itself, is not really going to have the kind of public health impact that we
would hope. There are other factors at work. There are other sources that enter
the food supply, ones which we come in contact through nonfood sources that
cause public health illness in the United States. ...
We've made significant reductions in the presence of salmonella in raw beef, in
the presence of E. coli in ground beef. We're not to zero yet, but the trend
lines are very positive. And they're a direct result of the investments that
we've made in achieving and implementing a much more sophisticated process in
the beef industry. ...
Secretary Glickman had said that the food supply, the meat supply, is safer
today than it was 10 years ago, but because of the concentration in the
industry, the way the meat is so efficiently prepared and distributed, if
something goes wrong, the risk is monumental. And with new pathogens like E.
coli appearing, doesn't that system make us more vulnerable?
That system also makes us more efficient. That system also gives us greater
resources to identify and reduce and ultimately eliminate the kind of food-safety concern that you raise. And at the same time, that system has given us
the ability to respond to our customer needs and consumer preferences.
But look at the Jack in the Box incident in 1993 -- something we weren't
expecting [that] had a devastating effect here. Look at Japan, with BSE [Mad Cow
Disease]. I would think that you would be up nights worrying
about this, because something like that goes wrong, ... the consumer will stop buying beef.
In terms of 1993, [the] Jack in the Box in the Pacific Northwest, the first
significant outbreak of E. coli -related food-borne illness attributable to
undercooked beef, undercooked hamburgers. ... No one involved in that tragedy is
unchanged. Everyone has changed their personal habits, the way restaurants
prepare beef, the way we process the product in the beef plants around the
You mentioned BSE in Japan. It has had a very disruptive effect on beef sales
in that country. It's a similar situation that unfolded in the United Kingdom,
going back to the late 1980s. Of course we are concerned about BSE possibly
appearing in the United States. But to date, it has not. That's just not luck;
that is the result of a many-year multifaceted effort to make sure that our
herds remain BSE-free.
For example, in the late 1980s, when the United Kingdom discovered BSE in their
cattle herd, we immediately banned the import of livestock and meat products
from the UK so that we were not importing the problem.
In the mid-1990s, we implemented feed restrictions to make sure that the
rations we feed our cattle do not become a conduit for transmitting the
disease. There is some indication that that's how it spread throughout the
Over the last five or six years, we've had a very aggressive live animal
surveillance program to test every suspect animal for BSE. To date, we've done
tens of thousands of those tests, all of which fortunately have come back
negative. We continue to test a larger number of potentially suspect animals to
make sure that we do remain BSE-free. You never can say "never." At least,
professionals in the risk assessment business will say, "Never say 'never.'"
Experts at Harvard University recently completed a multi-year risk assessment
at the request of the federal government to see whether or not we have a
likelihood of experiencing BSE in our animal population, or our livestock
population. They conclude the risk is very low. And the risk is very low
because of the three major steps that I just outlined for you: import control;
feed restrictions; and a very robust live animal surveillance program. ...
Everyone is very clear about the enormous impact of the Jack in the Box
outbreak in 1993 on the industry, both commercially and in terms of regulation.
So when the new HACCP process was being developed, the American Meat Institute
lobbied against setting standards, microbial standards, for salmonella testing
in beef. Why?
It's not true. ...
By way of background, HACCP was first developed in the 1970s by Pillsbury as
the most effective process control approach that they could develop to
manufacture food for NASA to make sure it was perfect for our astronauts in
space. The meat and poultry industry began to experiment with HACCP-based
principles in the mid- to late-1980s. By 1990, the industry itself had
concluded that this was an improvement over the previous quality control
programs that we had been utilizing in the past.
So the American Meat Institute, as the industry's national trade association,
embarked in 1990 on a massive multi-year education and training initiative, to
train our industry employees on HACCP principles, how to write a HACCP plan,
how to implement it, how to continue to refine it and improve it. We have
trained thousands of employees in our industry over the last 10 years on
In the mid-1990s, based upon our experience with HACCP in our plants, it was
the American Meat Institute, on behalf of the meat and poultry companies we
represent, that formally petitioned the Department of Agriculture to ask of
them -- to urge them -- that they incorporate this program in their federal
regulations, so that every plant within the country would be required under
federal regulation to develop and implement and operate pursuant to a HACCP
plan. We were very supportive of HACCP. We were the first ones there. ...
But you have fought putting set microbial standards in there to reinforce
No, that is not true. The initial proposal from the government in the mid-1990s
recommended using salmonella as a process control indicator. Over many, many
years involving microbiological tests, which we conduct on an ongoing basis for
all sorts of bacteria in all of our plants, our experience was that salmonella
is not a very good indicator. It's rarely found in beef.
But we don't want salmonella in the beef. Why not set standards as to what
is an allowable amount, and then work to get it below that?
The government proposed using salmonella as an indicator organism. We suggested
there are much more useful and meaningful indicator organisms. So in that
regard, we did not believe salmonella was the best choice for the government to
I understand there's been this argument as to what's the better indicator.
But salmonella is a pathogen that nobody wants in their food. The government
was saying with this new HACCP regulation that we want to find the best ways of
controlling these pathogens that we don't want in our food. "Let us set this
standard. We're going to give the companies more control over the inspection
process, because they're probably the best people to do it. But to guarantee
that, let's set a standard for something we clearly don't want in the food." At
the time salmonella was believed to be the most frequently occurring food-borne
illness. Jim Walsh offered an amendment trying to effectively block those
regulations from going in.
My recollection is that Congressman Walsh offered an amendment, the purpose of
which was to have the department basically consult more broadly with interested
parties and experts before it finalized its regulation. And indeed the
department did that.
Because you did not like the salmonella standards that would allow only a
certain percentage of salmonella in the beef?
I don't recall it that way. Our first knowledge of the salmonella performance
standard was in the final regulation, so we couldn't have opposed it in the
notice and comment process. We did indicate to the government that there were
better bacteria that they could identify.
Yes, that are present.
But isn't the point to go after pathogens?
The point is to try to develop processes that give you some reliable assurance
of the absence of pathogens. Using generic E. coli, for example, is a
reliable indicator organism, and if the generic E. coli numbers are low,
there is a direct correlation with likelihood that any pathogenic bacteria
would be low, or not present. ...
That's not true with salmonella. And basically when the experts looked at it
and presented the evidence to a federal district court judge [in the Supreme
Beef case], the judge concluded, based upon the science that was presented
and the lack of persuasive arguments from the government to suggest
otherwise, ... [that] failing the salmonella performance standard
really tells you nothing about the safety and wholesomeness of the raw product,
or the cleanliness of the facility in which the product is processed. ...
Given all the industry has done in the last 10 years to improve the
technology to go after food-borne illness-causing pathogens, why are you
fighting, and have continued to fight, this one case that defends somebody who
had at one test up to 50 percent of their ground beef contaminated with
salmonella? If your goal is to, as you said, improve the quality and the
safety of the meat, why fight this case?
The goal is to produce safe product in clean facilities. We do that. What the
court concluded is that just because you have salmonella in raw uncooked ground
beef in no way suggests, as a raw uncooked product, that it's adulterated, or
that the plant that's producing it in unsanitary.
But how can we stop it? Don't you want to stop it? Don't you want to
lower the incidence of salmonella?
We have. If you look at the USDA data over the last decade, there has been a
dramatic reduction in the incidence of salmonella in a raw uncooked product in
beef, pork, chicken, turkey. The trend line is very positive and favorable. We
are making very good progress in reducing salmonella in raw uncooked products.
From a public health perspective, the issue is whether there is salmonella on
the cooked product that we eat. It's not on whether there's incidence on raw
We've spoken with Dave Theno, one of the industry's leaders, who has been
instrumental in developing HACCP systems that everyone in the industry
respects. He says that this testing for salmonella and the other pathogens is
essential to making HACCP work. Do you think he's wrong?
I'm not going to dispute the premise that microbiological testing -- and there
are many different microbiological tests that companies conduct -- matter. [As a
matter] of fact, I will strongly endorse the premise that microbiological
testing, a robust, systematic, frequent series of microbiological tests, is a
very effective means for us to control our process and make further
improvements in the safety of our product.
So why not test for the pathogens we know make people sick, which is the
problem in the end?
Salmonella on a raw uncooked product is not, in and of itself, a public health
risk. And according to not just a federal court, but an appellate court,
salmonella on a raw uncooked hamburger does not make it adulterated. It does
not mean that the plant is not operating in an unsanitary way. ...
The beef industry spends a lot of money promoting beef as a wholesome
product. This fight surely does not help that effort. Why is it so important to
There's a principle here, and it's a principle that underlied our petition
almost 10 years ago to implement HACCP as a regulatory requirement for meat
and poultry plants. And the principle is, there are increasingly valid
scientific tools and methodologies, technologies that we can utilize in making
our products safer and more wholesome. The salmonella performance standard has
no scientific underpinnings. It has no relevance in terms of the wholesomeness
of the product or the cleanliness of the facility.
Tell that to a consumer buying beef. ... How
does the consumer know what is safe meat or not?
What the consumer should know is that the beef industry has made demonstrable
progress in achieving significant reductions in all bacteria on raw beef
products, pathogenic and nonpathogenic. That progress is quantified and
confirmed by ongoing USDA tests. And we continue to invest millions of dollars
in making further improvements in the safety and the wholesomeness of our beef
We conduct thousands and thousands of microbiological tests in our beef plants
around the country, because they do give us the ability to better control our
process, to improve the safety of our products. We're committed to
microbiological testing. We're the industry that asked the government to
develop and implement a HACCP regulation. We are making significant progress in
improving the integrity and safety of our products. Government test results
show that year after year.
For the consumer, I would suggest that there is still a responsibility, even
with all this improvement, to handle the food in a proper manner. And that
means, cooking it properly; keeping it chilled before you cook it; store it
properly. It is a safe and wholesome food supply, but it is not a zero-risk
supply. And there are some responsibilities at the end of the process that
still exist, and frankly probably always will exist.
Does HACCP leave too much power in the hands of plants to regulate their own
behavior? It's been criticized for letting the fox guard the chicken coop.
Actually, one of the fundamental reasons that HACCP has been so strongly
embraced, by both industry, government, and during the rulemaking process,
consumer organizations, and why long-term it's going to be the approach that
allows us to continue to make improvements ... [is that] at its fundamental
core, it recognizes that the primary responsibility for assuring the safety and
integrity of the food supply is in the hands of those who actually produce the
I don't mean to suggest that government doesn't have an important role to play.
But it's a secondary role of oversight, confirmation, compliance, and
enforcement when that may be necessary and appropriate. But the fundamental
principle of HACCP is that the primary responsibility resides with the producer
of the product. That is a positive development, and that's one of the reasons
that we've been able to make our product safer over the last 10 years. And it
will give us the process, the approach, the tools, the responsibility, to
continue to make our products even safer in the future.
Right now that idea is being challenged in another area with Enron, where
self-regulation has obviously had disastrous consequences. What do you say to
reassure people that the self-regulation you're asking for within the meat
industry isn't going to turn into another disastrous situation, particularly
when we no longer have these salmonella standards?
Anyone who thinks that HACCP is tantamount to self-regulation does not
understand HACCP as a process control technology, and does not understand
the inspection system that exists within the United States. HACCP says to us in
the industry, "You're primarily responsible," which is appropriate, "for
ensuring the safety and integrity of your product." But that is not tantamount
to having no oversight.
We have federal inspectors in our plants everyday. We do not operate in the
meat and poultry industry without an on-site oversight presence, a continuous
inspection presence, in our plants. That's an important and valid role for the
federal government to be playing. And in some of the larger plants, it's not
one or two inspectors; there are literally dozens of USDA inspectors on site
everyday in all parts of our operations, ensuring that we are fulfilling our
primary responsibility for maintaining the safety and the integrity of our
nation's meat supply.
But some of those inspectors have said that, given the new system and given
the fact that they don't have the same authority on the line, they haven't been
able to do their job as well.
I reject that. That's an inaccurate portrayal of the role the inspectors are
playing. I do fully appreciate that, as the government embraces and fully
implements a HACCP-based inspection system, the role of that inspector will
change. I do think the government needs to do a better job in explaining to the
inspector the new role they're going to have. But in no way is it a diminution,
or a lessening, of their regulatory and enforcement authorities.
Can they stop the line now the way they used to?
They can stop the line. They can shut down a plant. They can prevent a plant
from starting up if they don't think the pre-operational sanitation program was
adequate. And they can even suggest -- and have always received an affirmative
response -- if a recall were in order. ... Their enforcement tools have not
changed post-HACCP. ...
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