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FSIS Measures Worry Meat Processors

Late last year, Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, in the first ever live Facebook chat between the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the public, assured small meat processors and meat lockers that her agency would be sensitive to their concerns in crafting the details of food safety regulation. But, she said, “no one is exempt from food safety.”    

meat-grinder2-featured.jpgAs indicated, the USDA recently issued a draft guidance seeking to aid small plants in meeting food safety requirements. Specifically, the regulation is designed to clarify Pathogen Reduction: Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HAACP), a regulatory system published by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) in 1996.

The USDA says the new rules are needed to ensure that meat handlers are keeping dangerous bacteria out of their products. In a recent letter to the industry, the USDA said that a “demonstrated failure” by processors to ensure they had proper safety measures had led to a series of recalls involving pork barbecue, sausages and other products.

But small farmers claim new fees and inspection requirements would impose ruinous financial burdens that could cause businesses to drop products or go out of business.

Some experts agree. John Ikerd, emeritus professor of agricultural economics at the University of Missouri, Columbia, said the bill’s impact on smaller producers “could be a blow to the whole local food movement,” running contrary to the Obama administration’s campaign to promote locally grown foods and small producers.

A trade association that represents small plants, the American Association of Meat Processors, estimated the initial costs at as much as $12,000 per product line and then $3,600 per year.

Paul Bubeck, who runs a small business that sells smoked products to supermarkets, said the USDA proposal could cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

 
“I can’t believe we have to fight the government to stay in business,” he said.

At issue are the safety rules that processors have to follow to ensure they are taking proper measures to prevent contaminated meat from reaching consumers. According to some estimates, processors might have to start testing meat before and after it is treated with cleansing acid washes, heating measures, or any other steps taken to kill harmful bacteria. In some cases, 13 samples of a product would be tested at each time.

This process could be especially costly for small producers because they often produce specialty meats or many different types and styles. Testing for a large cattle slaughterhouse, conversely, would be simpler and more cost-efficient, given that it might just produce one line of beef carcasses.

Not surprisingly, big food companies generally support the measures, judging that added expenses would be small compared to the potential financial damage of a vast product recall or outbreak. For this reason, food safety regulation has often been blamed for the shrinking number of small meat processors and the concentration of market power in industry giants like Tyson Foods and Smithfield Foods.

“Anytime you increase regulation you increase costs and you concentrate an industry,” said Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey. “This is a perfect example of how that can happen.”

The USDA, however, agreed to look into the complaints and is currently taking comments from the industry and the public.

Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, who is spearheading the local food initiative, said the cost estimates being used by opponents of the bill are overblown, but that she’ll be discussing the issue soon with officials from the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). 

 
Although Merrigan said that organic farmers and small businesses need rules that are “transparent, strict, and rigorously enforced,” the USDA doesn’t want to harm small-scale meat processors.

“I don’t think we’re on a collision course,” she said.

© Food Safety News
  • jmunsell

    USDA is precisely correct when it states “a demonstrated failure by processors to ensure they had proper safety measures had led to a series of recalls”. Indeed, these ongoing outbreaks and recurring recalls clearly reveal that an alarming amount of contaminated/adulterated meat is being shipped into commerce on a daily basis. The agency’s response to this obvious problem is misdirected and will not resolve this public health issue, by INTENTIONAL agency design.
    First of all, we must address the issue of “ENTERIC” bacteria to fully grasp the totality of this public health problem. By definition, “Enteric” bacteria emanate from within animals’ intestines, and by extension, reside within manure, and proliferate on manure-covered hides. E.coli 0157:H7 and Salmonella are “enteric” bacteria, while other bacteria such as listeria are not. Therefore, enteric bacteria initially enter the food chain via sloppy kill floor dressing procedures. Local retail meat markets (Safeway, Costco, WalMart) do NOT have intestines or manure-covered hides on their premises. For example, the Lunds and Byerlys retail chains in Minneapolis experienced a sizeable ground beef recall in 2007, caused by their unwitting purchase of previously contaminated meat from their source slaughter provider. Restaurants likewise do not have intestines or manure-covered hides on their premises, but have nevertheless been stung by costly recalls caused by their unwitting purchases of meat laced with INVISIBLE pathogens from source slaughter providers. The same is true of hospital and school cafeterias, who previously perceived that the USDA Mark of Inspection had some connection to product wholesomeness.
    The first conclusion we can make is that the high-speed large slaughter establishments, killing thousands of beef daily, are shipping into commerce inappropriately large amounts of meat harboring invisible and lethal pathogens. USDA is in a quandry, wondering what to do about this obvious problem. This should be an obvious “res ipsa loquitor”, i.e., if we desire to remove “Enteric” bacteria from our food chain, we must determine the true SOURCE of “Enteric” bacteria, then Force the Source to implement meaningful corrective actions to prevent recurrences. So, how does USDA propose to “Force the Source”?
    Answer: USDA follows the pathogen-laced meat downstream to the small further processors, restaurants, retail meat markets and cafeterias. The agency is now mandating dramatic increases in DOWNSTREAM microbiological testing, at great expense, to “Validate” the ability of these downstream entities to (a) detect the invisible incoming pathogens and (b) sanitize the previously-contaminated meat. Mission Impossible, at any cost. As such, USDA quitely endorses the right for the large source originating slaughter establishments to allow the horses out of the barn, and then place the agency’s cross hairs and scrutiny at the downstream destination establishments to find and remove the horses.
    Let’s compare this to the unfortunate Shuttle disaster of a few years ago, in which NASA’s Shuttle disintegrated on reentry into the earth’s atmosphere, showering toxic debris onto several east Texas counties. NASA immediately commenced an intensive investigation, scouring every square food of those Texas counties, looking for evidence to determine the true CAUSE of the disaster. If NASA’s investigators had been limited to the same restrictive investigative protocol imposed upon USDA meat investigators, NASA would have concluded that the Shuttle disaster was caused by inadequate air quality control programs in existence in those deficient and negligent east Texas counties which allowed the toxic debris to arrive on their property. This USDA proposal to demand increased validation at downstream destination facilities would but increase the liability on destinations to improve their air quality control programs, via improved purchase specifications, as if better paperwork protocol would require slaughter plants to dry clean their meat prior to shipment into commerce.
    The biggest four meat slaughter companies in America currently slaughter 88% of our feedlot steers and heifers. Slaughter plants of these four companies are forced to utilize high-speed kill floors to remain economically competitive. These companies are behemoth, multi-national entities employing thousands of people. These companies enjoy political clout, and have the economic wherewithal to challenge USDA with costly and extended litigation if the agency were stupidly audacious enough to attempt meaningful enforcement actions at these huge source slaughter establishments. The Nebraska Beef litigation is a premier example, and Nebraska Beef is not one of the Big Four. USDA is paralyzed with fear of potential litigation from the Big packers, so it adroitly avoids confrontations with the industry’s biggest players. Instead, the agency places primary liability against the relatively hapless small, downstream destination establishments. As this article states, “….processors might have to start testing meat before and after it is treated with cleansing acid washes, heating measures, or any other steps taken to kill haramful bacteria. In some cases, 13 samples of a product would be tested at each time”. End quote. This USDA Validation mandate will require downline processors to test incoming meat for wholesomeness before the meat is processed, then test their finished product as well. This USDA mandate is inappropriate, prohibitively expensive, and is the inevitable outcome of the agency adroitly avoiding meaningful inspection at the SOURCE, which is the originating slaughter plant.
    In essense, the USDA is requiring the downstream destination facilities to validate the success or failure of their source slaughter providers to ship wholesome meat into commerce. The agency is not mandating that the source slaughter plants validate the effectiveness of their own HACCP Plans, nor is the agency willing to perform a meaningful incidence of microbial testing at the source slaughter plants to prevent shipment of pathogen-laced meat into commerce. No, USDA blithely passes all liability downstream, intentionally ignoring that such misplaced liability will shutter a large % of downstream entities. The results will not only increase unemployment in small American communities across America’s break basket, will also increase our dependence on imported meat (of questionable wholesomeness), while outbreaks and recalls continue unabated.
    Egads Americans, wake up. The agency which Abraham Lincoln intended to be “The People’s Agency” has degenerated into a pawn for the large multinational corporations which essentially run the show at USDA/FSIS. When Teddy Roosevelt embarked on trust busting in the meat industry a century ago, the concentration within the meat packers at that time was less than the concentration currently besetting America. Frankly, our leaders within the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government lack the courage to counter balance the fourth branch of government, namely the regulatory bureaucrats who operate in the total absence of checks and balances.
    In the article, Kathleen Merrigan states “I don’t think we’re on a collision course” [with small processors]. She is emminently incorrect. Not only will the agency shutter small downstream establishments, this newest agency mandate will result in a collison course with public health and safe food imperatives. Until Americans conjure up the courage to challenge evil people and evil mandates at USDA, the agency’s meat inspection Titanic is indeed on a collision course which will sicken and kill countless consumers.
    John W. Munsell, Manager
    Foundation for Accountability in Regulatory Enforcement (FARE)
    212 S. Jordan
    Miles City, MT 59301
    406-234-1877
    406-853-1878
    pdoggy@midrivers.com

  • John Munsell

    USDA is precisely correct when it states “a demonstrated failure by processors to ensure they had proper safety measures had led to a series of recalls”. Indeed, these ongoing outbreaks and recurring recalls clearly reveal that an alarming amount of contaminated/adulterated meat is being shipped into commerce on a daily basis. The agency’s response to this obvious problem is misdirected and will not resolve this public health issue, by INTENTIONAL agency design.
    First of all, we must address the issue of “ENTERIC” bacteria to fully grasp the totality of this public health problem. By definition, “Enteric” bacteria emanate from within animals’ intestines, and by extension, reside within manure, and proliferate on manure-covered hides. E.coli 0157:H7 and Salmonella are “enteric” bacteria, while other bacteria such as listeria are not. Therefore, enteric bacteria initially enter the food chain via sloppy kill floor dressing procedures. Local retail meat markets (Safeway, Costco, WalMart) do NOT have intestines or manure-covered hides on their premises. For example, the Lunds and Byerlys retail chains in Minneapolis experienced a sizeable ground beef recall in 2007, caused by their unwitting purchase of previously contaminated meat from their source slaughter provider. Restaurants likewise do not have intestines or manure-covered hides on their premises, but have nevertheless been stung by costly recalls caused by their unwitting purchases of meat laced with INVISIBLE pathogens from source slaughter providers. The same is true of hospital and school cafeterias, who previously perceived that the USDA Mark of Inspection had some connection to product wholesomeness.
    The first conclusion we can make is that the high-speed large slaughter establishments, killing thousands of beef daily, are shipping into commerce inappropriately large amounts of meat harboring invisible and lethal pathogens. USDA is in a quandry, wondering what to do about this obvious problem. This should be an obvious “res ipsa loquitor”, i.e., if we desire to remove “Enteric” bacteria from our food chain, we must determine the true SOURCE of “Enteric” bacteria, then Force the Source to implement meaningful corrective actions to prevent recurrences. So, how does USDA propose to “Force the Source”?
    Answer: USDA follows the pathogen-laced meat downstream to the small further processors, restaurants, retail meat markets and cafeterias. The agency is now mandating dramatic increases in DOWNSTREAM microbiological testing, at great expense, to “Validate” the ability of these downstream entities to (a) detect the invisible incoming pathogens and (b) sanitize the previously-contaminated meat. Mission Impossible, at any cost. As such, USDA quitely endorses the right for the large source originating slaughter establishments to allow the horses out of the barn, and then place the agency’s cross hairs and scrutiny at the downstream destination establishments to find and remove the horses.
    Let’s compare this to the unfortunate Shuttle disaster of a few years ago, in which NASA’s Shuttle disintegrated on reentry into the earth’s atmosphere, showering toxic debris onto several east Texas counties. NASA immediately commenced an intensive investigation, scouring every square food of those Texas counties, looking for evidence to determine the true CAUSE of the disaster. If NASA’s investigators had been limited to the same restrictive investigative protocol imposed upon USDA meat investigators, NASA would have concluded that the Shuttle disaster was caused by inadequate air quality control programs in existence in those deficient and negligent east Texas counties which allowed the toxic debris to arrive on their property. This USDA proposal to demand increased validation at downstream destination facilities would but increase the liability on destinations to improve their air quality control programs, via improved purchase specifications, as if better paperwork protocol would require slaughter plants to dry clean their meat prior to shipment into commerce.
    The biggest four meat slaughter companies in America currently slaughter 88% of our feedlot steers and heifers. Slaughter plants of these four companies are forced to utilize high-speed kill floors to remain economically competitive. These companies are behemoth, multi-national entities employing thousands of people. These companies enjoy political clout, and have the economic wherewithal to challenge USDA with costly and extended litigation if the agency were stupidly audacious enough to attempt meaningful enforcement actions at these huge source slaughter establishments. The Nebraska Beef litigation is a premier example, and Nebraska Beef is not one of the Big Four. USDA is paralyzed with fear of potential litigation from the Big packers, so it adroitly avoids confrontations with the industry’s biggest players. Instead, the agency places primary liability against the relatively hapless small, downstream destination establishments. As this article states, “….processors might have to start testing meat before and after it is treated with cleansing acid washes, heating measures, or any other steps taken to kill haramful bacteria. In some cases, 13 samples of a product would be tested at each time”. End quote. This USDA Validation mandate will require downline processors to test incoming meat for wholesomeness before the meat is processed, then test their finished product as well. This USDA mandate is inappropriate, prohibitively expensive, and is the inevitable outcome of the agency adroitly avoiding meaningful inspection at the SOURCE, which is the originating slaughter plant.
    In essense, the USDA is requiring the downstream destination facilities to validate the success or failure of their source slaughter providers to ship wholesome meat into commerce. The agency is not mandating that the source slaughter plants validate the effectiveness of their own HACCP Plans, nor is the agency willing to perform a meaningful incidence of microbial testing at the source slaughter plants to prevent shipment of pathogen-laced meat into commerce. No, USDA blithely passes all liability downstream, intentionally ignoring that such misplaced liability will shutter a large % of downstream entities. The results will not only increase unemployment in small American communities across America’s break basket, will also increase our dependence on imported meat (of questionable wholesomeness), while outbreaks and recalls continue unabated.
    Egads Americans, wake up. The agency which Abraham Lincoln intended to be “The People’s Agency” has degenerated into a pawn for the large multinational corporations which essentially run the show at USDA/FSIS. When Teddy Roosevelt embarked on trust busting in the meat industry a century ago, the concentration within the meat packers at that time was less than the concentration currently besetting America. Frankly, our leaders within the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government lack the courage to counter balance the fourth branch of government, namely the regulatory bureaucrats who operate in the total absence of checks and balances.
    In the article, Kathleen Merrigan states “I don’t think we’re on a collision course” [with small processors]. She is emminently incorrect. Not only will the agency shutter small downstream establishments, this newest agency mandate will result in a collison course with public health and safe food imperatives. Until Americans conjure up the courage to challenge evil people and evil mandates at USDA, the agency’s meat inspection Titanic is indeed on a collision course which will sicken and kill countless consumers.
    John W. Munsell, Manager
    Foundation for Accountability in Regulatory Enforcement (FARE)
    212 S. Jordan
    Miles City, MT 59301
    406-234-1877
    406-853-1878
    pdoggy@midrivers.com

  • Ann Quinn, consumer

    FSN, thank you for the article on the position of small, local
    meat producers.
    Mr. Munsell, as a typical American consumer and cognizant of what happened to you and your company personally in Montana for being a whistleblower, thank you even more for your comments, which seem to me to raise many, many valid points about the flaws with our government regulators and the big-four meat packers and their slaughterhouse procedures.
    American consumers are very tired of the constant recalls and finding out they’ve purchased food pathogen adulterated meat in grocery stores and fast food restaurants. For my family, whose health I am very concerned about, I’m making every effort to GO MEATLESS as many days as I possibly
    can, and especially beef meatless. And no, I don’t want my meats to be ammoniated, antibiotic soaked, irradiated products from thousands of animals and multiple countries in a single package. I urge every other American consumer who is worried about family food safety to go meatless and let the food industry know you are fed up and want USDA/FSIS to do their job as best they can in the interest of US consumer health first.

  • Leslie Kuhn

    I couldn’t say it any better than Ann did above. Its about time our goverment agencies started protecting consumers and not by targeting the safer small local producers either. They are not the problem, big ag is. Maybe if the animals were raised species appropriately and fed real feed and slaughtered humanely and cleanly these problems would stop increasing every year.Until they do we need to stop buying from these companies. I have no problem going meat free for myself and human family members but my animal family members need meat !

  • I Hate Factory Farms

    It’s real simple – our regulatory agencies make it very HARD for the little guys to do the right thing, while at the same time make it very EASY for the big guys to do the wrong thing. Nobody is getting sick and dying from these small meat processors. When a family owned processor handles 20-30 animals a week it is no problem at all to assure quality using traditional methods. But when a factory slaughterhouse races through 2,000 animals a day, well, it simply isn’t possible to check everything. So as a result now the little guy is going to get punished for the greed and haste of the big guy. THIS IS THE WRONG ANSWER, USDA!! I will not under any circumstances eat animal products that come from factory farms. If these regulations pass and shut down my local processors, which my local farmers are already saying will shut them down, then that’s it. Game over. My family has no more meat.

  • Norman Sawyer

    YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING, GIVE ME A BRAKE !
    We have a family farm. 200 mother cows. We feed out the calves. We have a local family owned, federal inspected processor harvest our beef. We sell direct to the consumer and at the local Farmer’s Market. We have a high quality product, with our name on it, SAWYER BEEF. Our processor has told us the cost of these extra test will probably put us out of the bussiness of getting our product direct to the consumer. NONE OF OUR BEEF HAS EVER BEEN RECALLED.
    YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING, GIVE ME A BRAKE !!!