USDA TO SEEK MORE SUPPLY-CHAIN INPUT: VENEMAN

WASHINGTON -- Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman outlined a six-point strategy to protect the nation's food supply that includes a chance for more food-industry input.Speaking last week at the Food Safety Summit here, Veneman noted that food safety is a top priority within the Bush administration. The proposed 2002 federal budget includes funds for an additional 7,600 meat and poultry inspectors, and

WASHINGTON -- Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman outlined a six-point strategy to protect the nation's food supply that includes a chance for more food-industry input.

Speaking last week at the Food Safety Summit here, Veneman noted that food safety is a top priority within the Bush administration. The proposed 2002 federal budget includes funds for an additional 7,600 meat and poultry inspectors, and an additional $21 million for the agency's Food Safety and Inspection Service, which directly oversees the battle against foodborne pathogens in fresh meat, poultry and eggs.

"[Food safety] is vitally important to the millions of people around the world who every day consume American agricultural products," she said. "And it's also important to the industry, which relies on consumer confidence in the food supply to maintain demand, both here and abroad."

A new emphasis on integrating industry research into government policy will be among the goals of Veneman's tenure. She said that the effectiveness of any new regulation will be largely determined by the cooperation and input received from "every link in the food chain."

USDA is also working to ensure that all policy is based on scientific research that can also be used to educate producers, food handlers and consumers, she said.

"Speculative or incomplete scientific research may be good for the headlines, but it is a terrible basis for policy and regulation," she said, adding that it is critical for all participants in the distribution chain to contribute sound and reliable findings.

Consumer education will continue to be a priority, she said, with an emphasis on the basics such as proper cooking temperatures and home sanitation, as exemplified by the existing Fight BAC! and Thermy campaigns.

"A well-educated public will hold more realistic views of the food supply and, therefore, be more confident in the foods they purchase."

The battle is ongoing, Veneman said. Currently, there is much public confusion over the animal syndromes foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) -- only the latter of which has a variant that is potentially fatal to humans.