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USDA Releases Open Government Plan

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) yesterday released its Open Government Plan, a document indicating plans to integrate openness, transparency, participation, and collaboration into the Department’s day-to-day operations.

The move is a response to President Obama’s Transparency and Open Government Memorandum, which was issued January 21, 2009, instructing the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to provide guidance to all federal departments and agencies on implementing the principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration. The OMB responded by issuing the Open Government Directive, requiring federal agencies to develop an Open Government Plan to act as a roadmap for incorporating transparency, participation, and collaboration into its core mission.

The USDA Open Government Plan reflects the input of senior policy, legal, and technology leadership in the agency, as well as input from those outside these leadership positions, including federal employees, agency stakeholders, and the general public.

Specifically, it establishes a unique governance structure comprised of three levels of leadership and direction: working groups, an Advisory Council, and a Steering Committee. These three components are expected to work in unison to ensure transparency, participation, and collaboration. 

Transparency, according to USDA, will be achieved by providing greater accessibility to data and current information to give the public a better understanding of the USDA as an organization. Collaboration will be pursued by improving upon existing partnerships and establishing new sustainable ones that will foster an enhanced shared understanding of the core mission.

To address participation, USDA has opened a website, called Open Government, that allows the public to share ideas, discuss them with each other, and vote for or express disagreement with the new ideas. As a result, the most popular ideas “rise to the top” for closer review by the agency, ultimately enabling the government to better understand and respond to the public.

“We owe the American people an open and transparent government but to make the government as effective as possible in completing the people’s business, we need our citizens to participate and collaborate with us. This is an unprecedented effort to open the government and work with the people it serves,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “At USDA, we used a ground-up approach, seeking guidance from our employees and the public as to how to best achieve the Open Government goals.”

You can download the entire USDA Open Government Plan here.

© Food Safety News
  • jmunsell

    I wish only success to Secretary Vilsack and President Obama on this ambitious agenda, which will face daunting opposition from lifer bureaucrats within USDA and the meat industry.
    A superlative example of certain opposition is the agency’s implementation of an intentionally faulty meat inspection system, called HACCP. It was partially modeled after the truly science-based Pillsbury HACCP system, but USDA’s system has proven to be a “HACCP HOAX”, intended to deregulate the large slaughter plants, enabling the agency to embrace a “Hands Off”, semi-retirement role at the industry’s behemoth abattoirs.
    A recent USDA policy development brings into sharper focus the agency’s cowardice to closely monitor activities at the largest slaughter plants. Small, downstream further processing plants purchase intact beef items from their source slaughter providers, then further process these items into steaks and roasts. The process produces substantial amounts of trimmings, which are then ground into burger. If the burger tests positive for E.coli 0157:H7, USDA now mandates that all trimmings produced at that plant on that day are adulterated trimmings. The agency’s stance can be somewhat understood, because the pathogen-laced ground beef originated from boneless trimmings which harbored E.coli 0157:H7. These trimmings emanated from cuts of meat which had been in contact with food contact surfaces in the processing room, such as cutting boards, wrapping tables, saws, etc. It is highly likely that residual bacteria were deposited onto these work surfaces, which then cross contaminated meat cuts subsequently placed onto these same work areas. The possibility of cross contamination is easily perceived.
    USDA is now on record that it demands an abundance of caution at the small, downstream further processing plants, retail meat markets, and restaurants which purchase all their meat from the large source slaughter plants. It is interesting to compare the agency’s concern for cross contamination at the small downline further processors, with the agency’s concern for cross contamination at the behemoth source originating slaughter plants.
    When the large slaughter plants (killing thousands daily) cut beef carcasses into component pieces (chucks, rounds, loins, etc), veritable mountains of boneless trimmings are produced. Typically, the large slaughter plants place trimmings into 2,000 lb combos, and each combo is tested for E.coli 0157:H7. If the test reveals the presence of E.coli, the combo is diverted to a plant which fully cooks the meat, thereby killing the bacteria. However, USDA is NOT concerned with cross contamination at the huge slaughter plant, and does NOT require any other trimmings from the plant’s production that day to be classified as adulterated. Odd, because the huge plants have a proliferation of conveyor belts which transport meat to various boning stations, and these belts will certainly be contaminated with E.coli which then contaminate other meat subsequently placed onto the belts. The same is true for the boning tables and saws, as well as personal protective gear such as aprons and gloves. Nevertheless, USDA does NOT perceive any potential harm from guaranteed cross contamination at the large slaughter plants, while perceiving the dramatic risk of cross contamination at the small, downstream further processing plants.
    The relative size of large vs small plants quickly reveals the substantial differences in risk involved here. The large plants ship nationwide, while small local plants frequently have but a local market. Therefore, cross contamination at the large plants can sicken consumers in many states (we’ve witnessed this in dozens of outbreaks and recalls), while unwholesome meat from small plants may sicken a handful of consumers in a localized area. In spite of these obvious differences, USDA blithely walks away from obvious contamination problems at the huge slaughter plants, and we must remember that the biggest four packers slaughter 88% of our feedlot steers and heifers. USDA statistics show that 93% of federally inspected plants are small, yet they produce only 10% of our meat. This means that although the big plants represent only 7% of all Federal plants, they produce 90% of our meat. This agency policy now insulates 90% of our meat from adequate inspection, while the agency intensely monitors 10% of our meat production at the small plants, which are easier enforcement prey for USDA.
    So, will this Open Government Plan force USDA/FSIS to justify this glaring discrepancy? Will Open Government require USDA to discuss and explain this sordid scenario to members of our Senate and House? Or even the Oval Office? I absolutely guarantee you……NO!
    This Open Government Plan is but another “feel good”, “nice touch”, Kafka-esque attempt to portray to the world that USDA is the ultimate protector of Public Health, when exactly the opposite is true. Consumers’ only hope is either to cook the dickens out of all our meat (hope you enjoy jerky), or stop eating meat, and destroy rural America. Who cares? The huge multinational slaughter entities now enjoy global sources of protein, which is cheaper in foreign countries which lack our restrictions on herbicides, pesticides, and payroll costs. We are witnessing the disintegration of America’s bread basket, exacerbated by USDA’s official endorsement. We are creating jobs for folks outside of America, while dismantling our domestic labor force. Who cares?
    John W. Munsell, Manager
    Foundation for Accountability in Regulatory Enforcement (FARE)
    Miles City, Montana
    April 8, 2010

  • John Munsell

    I wish only success to Secretary Vilsack and President Obama on this ambitious agenda, which will face daunting opposition from lifer bureaucrats within USDA and the meat industry.
    A superlative example of certain opposition is the agency’s implementation of an intentionally faulty meat inspection system, called HACCP. It was partially modeled after the truly science-based Pillsbury HACCP system, but USDA’s system has proven to be a “HACCP HOAX”, intended to deregulate the large slaughter plants, enabling the agency to embrace a “Hands Off”, semi-retirement role at the industry’s behemoth abattoirs.
    A recent USDA policy development brings into sharper focus the agency’s cowardice to closely monitor activities at the largest slaughter plants. Small, downstream further processing plants purchase intact beef items from their source slaughter providers, then further process these items into steaks and roasts. The process produces substantial amounts of trimmings, which are then ground into burger. If the burger tests positive for E.coli 0157:H7, USDA now mandates that all trimmings produced at that plant on that day are adulterated trimmings. The agency’s stance can be somewhat understood, because the pathogen-laced ground beef originated from boneless trimmings which harbored E.coli 0157:H7. These trimmings emanated from cuts of meat which had been in contact with food contact surfaces in the processing room, such as cutting boards, wrapping tables, saws, etc. It is highly likely that residual bacteria were deposited onto these work surfaces, which then cross contaminated meat cuts subsequently placed onto these same work areas. The possibility of cross contamination is easily perceived.
    USDA is now on record that it demands an abundance of caution at the small, downstream further processing plants, retail meat markets, and restaurants which purchase all their meat from the large source slaughter plants. It is interesting to compare the agency’s concern for cross contamination at the small downline further processors, with the agency’s concern for cross contamination at the behemoth source originating slaughter plants.
    When the large slaughter plants (killing thousands daily) cut beef carcasses into component pieces (chucks, rounds, loins, etc), veritable mountains of boneless trimmings are produced. Typically, the large slaughter plants place trimmings into 2,000 lb combos, and each combo is tested for E.coli 0157:H7. If the test reveals the presence of E.coli, the combo is diverted to a plant which fully cooks the meat, thereby killing the bacteria. However, USDA is NOT concerned with cross contamination at the huge slaughter plant, and does NOT require any other trimmings from the plant’s production that day to be classified as adulterated. Odd, because the huge plants have a proliferation of conveyor belts which transport meat to various boning stations, and these belts will certainly be contaminated with E.coli which then contaminate other meat subsequently placed onto the belts. The same is true for the boning tables and saws, as well as personal protective gear such as aprons and gloves. Nevertheless, USDA does NOT perceive any potential harm from guaranteed cross contamination at the large slaughter plants, while perceiving the dramatic risk of cross contamination at the small, downstream further processing plants.
    The relative size of large vs small plants quickly reveals the substantial differences in risk involved here. The large plants ship nationwide, while small local plants frequently have but a local market. Therefore, cross contamination at the large plants can sicken consumers in many states (we’ve witnessed this in dozens of outbreaks and recalls), while unwholesome meat from small plants may sicken a handful of consumers in a localized area. In spite of these obvious differences, USDA blithely walks away from obvious contamination problems at the huge slaughter plants, and we must remember that the biggest four packers slaughter 88% of our feedlot steers and heifers. USDA statistics show that 93% of federally inspected plants are small, yet they produce only 10% of our meat. This means that although the big plants represent only 7% of all Federal plants, they produce 90% of our meat. This agency policy now insulates 90% of our meat from adequate inspection, while the agency intensely monitors 10% of our meat production at the small plants, which are easier enforcement prey for USDA.
    So, will this Open Government Plan force USDA/FSIS to justify this glaring discrepancy? Will Open Government require USDA to discuss and explain this sordid scenario to members of our Senate and House? Or even the Oval Office? I absolutely guarantee you……NO!
    This Open Government Plan is but another “feel good”, “nice touch”, Kafka-esque attempt to portray to the world that USDA is the ultimate protector of Public Health, when exactly the opposite is true. Consumers’ only hope is either to cook the dickens out of all our meat (hope you enjoy jerky), or stop eating meat, and destroy rural America. Who cares? The huge multinational slaughter entities now enjoy global sources of protein, which is cheaper in foreign countries which lack our restrictions on herbicides, pesticides, and payroll costs. We are witnessing the disintegration of America’s bread basket, exacerbated by USDA’s official endorsement. We are creating jobs for folks outside of America, while dismantling our domestic labor force. Who cares?
    John W. Munsell, Manager
    Foundation for Accountability in Regulatory Enforcement (FARE)
    Miles City, Montana
    April 8, 2010