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Vilsack: Food Safety Top Priority for Obama

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke to an audience of over 700 food safety education experts yesterday, emphasizing the Administration’s commitment to overhauling the food safety system and shifting towards more preventative regulatory strategies.

“Preventing foodborne illness is a top priority for President Obama and USDA. We want to make sure parents never put their children at risk because of what they serve at the kitchen table,” said Vilsack, via video, to a large crowd gathered in Atlanta, Georgia for the 2010 Food Safety Education Conference, a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and NSF International, a not-for-profit NGO leader in standards development, testing and certification.

Vilsack speech 320 px.jpg“[E]ach year millions of Americans get sick by eating contaminated food, hundreds of thousands go to the hospital, and, unfortunately, thousands die,” said Vilsack. “The status quo is not acceptable.”

“We obviously must do better,” he added. “We must do a better job ensuring that the food Americans consume is safe and the public has all the information to keep their families healthy.”

“President Obama is challenging all of us involved in food safety to do a better job,” said Vilsack, adding that he has ordered a “thorough” review of all USDA food safety programs.

Vilsack and other top public health officials who spoke before the food safety conference emphasized the critical role the President’s Food Safety Working Group (FSWG) is playing in improving interagency coordination and strategy to prevent illnesses from happening in the first place.

The secretary also, fittingly, discussed how food safety education fits into the Administration’s overall prevention strategy. He pointed to the revamped FoodSafety.gov site, which creates a “one-stop” website for consumer food safety information, and said Twitter, Blogs, and Facebook have an important role for disseminating critical information.

“The USDA is already using these technologies to more effectively communicate with the public–and I’m pleased this meeting will explore those new avenues and many more for teaching Americans about food safety.”

Vilsack encouraged food safety educators to keep working hard, and he offered his strong support for their efforts.

“I know that your work goes unrecognized far too often,” he said. “There are no front page stories when a successful recall prevents contaminated foods from entering the supermarket. I’d like to take this opportunity to share my appreciation for all that you do.”

For more information on the Administration’s food safety initiatives, visit: www.foodsafetyworkingroup.gov.

© Food Safety News
  • jmunsell

    I have to believe that President Obama truly desires to implement strategy to “prevent illnesses to happen in the first place”, and for FSIS, which is “involved in food safety, to do a better job”, as Vilsack opined. As such, it will be interesting to see if President Obama, as well as Senators and Representatives from both sides of the aisle, endorse Senator Tester’s Senate Bill 3163, called the “Meat Safety and Accountability Act”. Just today, Jim Hodges from AMI stated that we can’t regulate pathogens out of the food supply. Indeed, we can’t mandate that E.coli and Salmonella supernaturally disappear before out eyes, in obedience to a regulation or law which demands such disappearance. However, when the agency hosted its public hearing on Tracebacks on March 10 and asked for comments, it was admitting that the agency needs to do a better job in tracing back to the TRUE ORIGIN of contamination, and subsequently to “Force the Source” to implement meaningful corrective actions to prevent recurrences. What is recurring now are multiple outbreaks and recalls, partly caused by historical agency refusal to do tracebacks to the SOURCE, while focusing its enforcement actions at the victimized downstream further processors. So, President Obama and both parties must now step up to the Traceback Plate, and swing for a home run, rather than striking out for consumers whenever the agency refuses to go back to the source. John Munsell

  • John Munsell

    I have to believe that President Obama truly desires to implement strategy to “prevent illnesses to happen in the first place”, and for FSIS, which is “involved in food safety, to do a better job”, as Vilsack opined. As such, it will be interesting to see if President Obama, as well as Senators and Representatives from both sides of the aisle, endorse Senator Tester’s Senate Bill 3163, called the “Meat Safety and Accountability Act”. Just today, Jim Hodges from AMI stated that we can’t regulate pathogens out of the food supply. Indeed, we can’t mandate that E.coli and Salmonella supernaturally disappear before out eyes, in obedience to a regulation or law which demands such disappearance. However, when the agency hosted its public hearing on Tracebacks on March 10 and asked for comments, it was admitting that the agency needs to do a better job in tracing back to the TRUE ORIGIN of contamination, and subsequently to “Force the Source” to implement meaningful corrective actions to prevent recurrences. What is recurring now are multiple outbreaks and recalls, partly caused by historical agency refusal to do tracebacks to the SOURCE, while focusing its enforcement actions at the victimized downstream further processors. So, President Obama and both parties must now step up to the Traceback Plate, and swing for a home run, rather than striking out for consumers whenever the agency refuses to go back to the source. John Munsell

  • Paul Carney

    I have worked and been in the meat and poultry sector for nearly 40 years now, starting as a plant employee and moving into an FSIS regulatory postion and now a liitle consulting.
    Mr. Munsell is right on target regarding the need for trace back to the source. The majority of the down the stream processors are not contaminating the prodct but are being the ones to be responsible for the E. coli 0157:H7 detection and elmination. This inappropiate shift of responsiblity is not an issue of regulating E. coli 0157:H7 out of the product, but is merely a resonable position of accountability.