WASHINGTON — The Obama administration last week pledged more cooperation among government agencies responsible for food safety in the United States, improved surveillance and enforcement, and a focus on prevention of outbreaks of foodborne illnesses.
The initiatives received widespread support from the food industry in the wake of a series of major outbreaks in recent years.
Bryan Silbermann, president and chief executive officer of Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association — who was recognized by Vice President Joe Biden at a press conference unveiling the proposals — said he was encouraged by the direction of the administration.
“We have been calling for commodity-specific regulation for at-risk items for some time,” he told SN last week.
The new food safety proposals were unveiled at a press conference highlighting the results of a study conducted by the Food Safety Working Group, a team of agency leaders seeking to improve food safety oversight in the U.S.
Among the new initiatives:
The Food and Drug Administration will issue a final rule aimed at reducing salmonella in eggs, and the Food Safety and Inspection Service will develop new standards to reduce prevalence of salmonella in poultry.
The FSIS will increase efforts to find traces of E. coli in beef by improving inspections.
The FDA by the end of this month will issue commodity-specific draft guidance on preventing E. coli in leafy greens, melons and tomatoes.
The FDA will issue draft guidance within three months on establishing product traceback systems.
In addition, several steps will be taken to improve communication and the speed of response to outbreaks, including updating state and federal emergency operating procedures and enhancement of the website foodsafety.gov.
To increase coordination, two new posts have been created at FDA and at the Department of Agriculture. The FDA named Michael Taylor, a prominent food safety expert, to oversee food safety as a special advisor. Taylor first joined FDA in 1976 and has also worked at USDA.
The USDA will create a new position within the next three months called the Chief Medical Officer at FSIS, reporting to the USDA under secretary for food safety.
“There was a lot of discussion about the need to clarify the jurisdictions between the federal agencies and to improve the communication between the federal agencies and their state and federal counterparts in public health,” he said. “We think that's critical.”
He said he was also encouraged by the discussion of a traceability system, and said the industry believes it is important for any system to be consistent with the PMA's own Produce Traceability Initiative and its use of the GS1 product-code standard.
Howard M. Magwire, vice president of government relations at United Egg Producers, Washington, told SN that FDA adopted some of that industry's recommendations for the final rule but ignored others, including promoting vaccination and consolidating inspections.
“Nevertheless, we will carefully study the entire final rule and work with FDA to make sure it is implemented in a way that is fair to producers and advances food safety,” he said.
Leslie G. Sarasin, president and CEO, Food Marketing Institute, said FMI “fully supports the extensive effort … to launch new and improved safety standards.
“We are pleased that the White House will focus on prevention, rapid response and increased and improved communications as this is what will be the essential factors for ensuring food safety.”