Natural Foods Merchandiser

Washington calls for more food safety

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced a recall of 864,000 pounds of beef products from Montebello, Calif. –based Huntington Meat Packing that may be contaminated with E. coli, prompting politicians to demand that food safety positions be filled and further advisory boards be created.

Consumer advocacy group, Consumers Union, and politicians like Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) are pushing the Obama administration to name an undersecretary for food safety at the FSIS. DeLauro is also requesting an independent food safety advisory board be formed to oversee the USDA’s inspection process.

“While any food safety recall is a major concern to me, this one is especially alarming as some of the products included were produced almost two years ago,” DeLauro said in a statement. “This is a glaring indication that the current inspection system for meat and poultry is inherently flawed and not sufficient to protect the public health.”

Currently, the FSIS controls inspections on meat, poultry and egg products to ensure they are “safe, wholesome and correctly labeled and packaged,” according to the FSIS mission statement. The undersecretary would oversee more than 8,000 inspectors going to more than 5,900 processing plants daily, making a job, food safety proponents like DeLauro and Consumers Union, said is critical.

“It is a bit frustrating that they still don’t have a head of food safety at the FSIS,” said Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist at Washington, D.C. –based Consumers Union. “We do think it would be a good idea to have more focus on food safety at both the USDA and the FDA and if they could coordinate more given the history of turf problems.”

Last week, the Obama administration appointed food safety expert Michael Taylor as deputy commissioner for foods at the Food and Drug Administration, a move Hanson said is a step in the right direction. Critics of Taylor’s appointment point out that he is a former Monsanto executive.

A few names have been thrown around for the undersecretary position, with nothing sticking quite yet. “We’ll just have to see what exactly the devil is in the details,” Hanson said.

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