CHICAGO -- Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman affirmed his zeal for reforming the nation's meat and poultry inspection system, during a speech at the American Meat Institute's International Meat Industry Convention here.
Glickman said he expected the Food Safety and Inspection Service some time this month to publish advanced notice of proposed rulemaking, which will address layering, reduction of regulatory burdens and the initiation of the merger between the current inspection system and reform based on the principles of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points system.
Glickman spoke strongly in favor of industrywide implementation of HACCP-based inspections, and added that reform has to go beyond processing plants to retail and other parts of the distribution system.
"An important task lies ahead of us: the mutual goal of improving food safety, and updating the meat and poultry inspection through the adoption of HACCP," he said. "I am deeply committed to reforming and improving the inspection system.
"Let there be no doubt: HACCP will bring about sweeping changes in our meat and poultry inspection system. The HACCP proposal is designed to address the most significant shortcomings in the current inspection system, when it comes to preventing hazards and reducing the risk of foodborne illness. [It] directly targets harmful bacteria, and builds the public health principle of prevention into our system."
In recognition of the time and effort such comprehensive changes will require, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed a transition period to implement HACCP, Glickman noted. The transition period takes into account near-term initiatives, interim targets and longer-term implementation, he added.
But inspection reform can not be limited to the production level, he cautioned.
"We also need to recognize the importance of a farm-to-table approach. The HACCP proposal will regulate products only within the plant environment. I recognize that ensuring food safety requires taking steps throughout the chain of production, processing, distributing, sale, and use and handling by the consumer.
"I also recognize the role that the consumer plays in proper handling and cooking of meat and poultry. We must continue to educate consumers."
Glickman called for a cooperative effort from the industry and a "strong, independent role for the government" to establish effective safety standards.