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Some Tips for the Tea Party

I’ve been challenged to find some policy planks for the Tea Party that would reduce the cost of federal food safety enforcement without putting the public at (greater) risk.

Here are a few thoughts, drawn from more than three decades of working in food safety.

Consolidate the food safety enforcement arms of FDA and USDA (Food Safety and Inspection Service). This would eliminate duplication of overlapping lab facilities and inspection programs. As a bonus, food companies now dealing with two separate federal agencies would only need to deal with one.

Require every shipment of imported ingredient, raw food or processed food to be accompanied by a Certificate of Analysis from an accredited laboratory. The cost would be paid for in toto by the off-shore producer and/or the importer – NOT by the US government. Domestic food processors must pay for their own lab tests. So should importers.

Eliminate the 100% inspection of federal meat plants. These resources can be spread more evenly throughout the newly consolidated agency, and increase overall food safety enforcement without increasing costs.

Eliminate HACCP mandates for the food industry. Motorists are told what speed limit they must observe – NOT how to observe it. Likewise, food producers and processors should be told what food safety standards they are expected to achieve. How they achieve these standards should be left to each individual company. As long as the standards are met, the way in which they are achieved should be irrelevant.

Privatize non-safety activities, such as USDA’s egg grading service. Last year’s shell egg-related outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis demonstrated all too clearly that this is not looked upon by USDA as a safety function. Producers should be responsible for arranging – and paying for – activities such as shell egg grading.

I’m sure that there are more good ideas floating around in the blogosphere. I welcome your comments and rebuttals, and will be happy to post alternative suggestions.

“Some Tips for the Tea Party” was first posted by Phyllis Entis on her  blog, eFoodAlert, on Sept. 25, 2011.  Reposted with permission.

© Food Safety News
  • Hayek

    Try again.
    Many of Tea partiers will probably tell you that it would be “cheaper” just to get rid of the nanny state and let the food industry self-regulate. The market will take care of it, thank you.

  • Jan

    The problem with eliminating HACCP is that while food producers/manufacturers could certainly achieve production of safe food without it most of the time, at those times when they failed, the records that HACCP mandates–records that create a trail that can be used to trace back where the failures occurred–might not exist. HACCP isn’t valuable only for final results: it’s invaluable for documenting *the process* of achieving–or failing to achieve–those results. Left to their own devices, many manufacturers would eliminate the costly and time-consuming process of documenting the stages in their food-safety programs.

  • Thanks very much for a thought provoking list, Ms. Entis!
    Because of your record of thoughtful consideration of food safety issues and regularly deepening discussions by well documented additional info, I will accept your request for a genuine discussion.
    I applaud your effort to include the Tea Party in the food safety discussion. Unfortunately, just as “Hayek” did in the first comment, key supporters of increased food safety regulation (e.g., Bill Marler and Marion Nestle) demonized them during the debate over the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
    As I actively assisted 2 national tea party groups’ efforts to understand the FSMA via long blog discussions during the run up to the FSMA’s passage, I can testify to that many tea party participants were trying hard to understand the import of the various versions of the proposed FSMA—a very complex bill.
    I see a problem for #2 in that I expect the WTO would rule it is an unequal requirement; therefore, a trade barrier.
    I particularly like #4 because LEGISLATED HACCP IS NOT HACCP. This has been being pointed out since, at least, December 2002 when Dr. Bill Sperber shined a bright light on it in his presentation, “HACCP does not work from Farm to Table” at the 5th International Noordwijk Food Safety and HACCP Forum. Unfortunately, this paper is not readily available. As a result, I will send a digital copy of his paper to anyone who requests it by writing to me at healthyfoodcoalition@gmail.com.
    Please clarify, Ms. Entis, whether or not you intend policy plank #4 to include elimination of the Hazard Analysis Risk-based Preventive Controls (HARPC) plan requirements (a variation of HACCP) recently mandated by the FSMA.
    In this instance, Congress also foolishly mandated HARPC plans for food facilities that do ZERO processing [packers and holders (i.e., storage facilities)] and, thus, have ZERO true “critical control points,” as defined by HACCP. The FSMA imposes on every food facility this variety of formal risk management that is appropriate in only very limited circumstances. As well documented by Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) in its ground breaking study, “HACCP for Salad Greens,” the cost of actually applying a plan is way too expensive for even many mid-sized facilities (see http://buylocalfood.org/page.php?id=285).
    I would add another policy plank, “Repeal the new Sec. 419 Standards for Produce Safety of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.” This is another, new, additional requirement of the FSMA, the cost of which was grossly underestimated by the GAO. It extends the authority of the FDA from food to crops standing in fields. The FDA does not have the expertise to write the required regulations. In fact, no one does. The Good Agricultural Practices (GAP certification) which will be their foundation were initiated by and have always been under the USDA and state departments of agriculture. In addition, as Dr. Sperber showed in the paper cited above, this type of regulation foolishly over generalizes and thus misapplies the principles of HACCP.
    I hope that your ideas will provoke a genuine debate that FSN won’t allow to be derailed by trolls.
    As always, I will happily extend this discussion individually with anyone who writes to me at healthyfoodcoalition@gmail.com but I won’t respond to critiques and personal attacks in these comments by trolls like “Doc Mudd.”

  • ecofoodoligist

    There is some good stuff here, and as much as I hate to admit it, the tea party may be the only ones who could bring it to the fore.
    Putting the burden on importers of US foods is an invaluable addition to the fiscal arsenal. It gives advantage to home grown food. If we can take that a step further and ensure that food, rather than commodity, farmers, reap the benefit you have a home run. A boon for American Food that brings in revenue and requires more green (ag) jobs.
    Dito with Jan on the HACCP. Is the author leaving open the possibility of disinfection and irradiation without record keeping. The low rung commodity growers would fight for freedom from any labeling, and for Organic Cert. for anything that spends a few minutes under sunlight. ef

  • Thanks very much for a thought provoking list, Ms. Entis!
    Because of your record of thoughtful consideration of food safety issues and regularly deepening discussions by well documented additional info, I will accept your request for a genuine discussion.
    I applaud your effort to include the Tea Party in the food safety discussion. Unfortunately, just as “Hayek” did in the first comment, key supporters of increased food safety regulation (e.g., Bill Marler and Marion Nestle) demonized them during the debate over the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
    As I actively assisted 2 national tea party groups’ efforts to understand the FSMA via long blog discussions during the run up to the FSMA’s passage, I can testify to that many tea party participants were trying hard to understand the import of the various versions of the proposed FSMA—a very complex bill.
    I see a problem for #2 in that I expect the WTO would rule it is an unequal requirement; therefore, a trade barrier.
    I particularly like #4 because LEGISLATED HACCP IS NOT HACCP. This has been being pointed out since, at least, December 2002 when Dr. Bill Sperber shined a bright light on it in his presentation, “HACCP does not work from Farm to Table” at the 5th International Noordwijk Food Safety and HACCP Forum. Unfortunately, this paper is not readily available. As a result, I will send a digital copy of his paper to anyone who requests it by writing to me at healthyfoodcoalition@gmail.com.
    Please clarify, Ms. Entis, whether or not you intend policy plank #4 to include elimination of the Hazard Analysis Risk-based Preventive Controls (HARPC) plan requirements (a variation of HACCP) recently mandated by the FSMA.
    In this instance, Congress also foolishly mandated HARPC plans for food facilities that do ZERO processing [packers and holders (i.e., storage facilities)] and, thus, have ZERO true “critical control points,” as defined by HACCP. The FSMA imposes on every food facility this variety of formal risk management that is appropriate in only very limited circumstances. As well documented by Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) in its ground breaking study, “HACCP for Salad Greens,” the cost of actually applying a plan is way too expensive for even many mid-sized facilities (see http://buylocalfood.org/page.php?id=285).
    I would add another policy plank, “Repeal the new Sec. 419 Standards for Produce Safety of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.” This is another, new, additional requirement of the FSMA, the cost of which was grossly underestimated by the GAO. It extends the authority of the FDA from food to crops standing in fields. The FDA does not have the expertise to write the required regulations. In fact, no one does. The Good Agricultural Practices (GAP certification) which will be their foundation were initiated by and have always been under the USDA and state departments of agriculture. In addition, as Dr. Sperber showed in the paper cited above, this type of regulation foolishly over generalizes and thus misapplies the principles of HACCP.
    I hope that your ideas will provoke a genuine debate that FSN won’t allow to be derailed by trolls.
    As always, I will happily extend this discussion individually with anyone who writes to me at healthyfoodcoalition@gmail.com but I won’t respond to critiques and personal attacks in these comments by trolls like “Doc Mudd.”

  • Val

    Shell egg grading conducted by AMS already is a voluntary program, i.e., those egg producers that want their eggs graded already pay a fee to AMS for that service. And yes, egg grading isn’t considered a food safety function.

  • Minkpuppy

    Combining food safety responsibilities into one agency requires more than just consolidating the food safety arms of FDA and FSIS.
    According to a GAO report in February of 2007, there were 15 seperate agencies in the US government with some sort of food safety regulatory responsibility. How the heck can anything get accomplished with that many agencies tripping each other? That ridiculous redundancy needs to be eliminated and folded into one agency as well.
    As someone who deals with regulatory HACCP everyday, I know that it’s a joke and doesn’t even remotely resemble what HACCP was originally. It’s a paper chase and nothing else. Records can be falsified and it’s ridiculous to rely on them. You have to have inspectors going into a plant and verifying that the plant conditions match their paperwork. When FSIS first implemented HACCP, they told the plants that they had control over everything in the plan and we wouldn’t tell them what to put into it. That is total bullcrap. Every FSA I’ve been part of has resulted in the EIAO telling the plant that they had to put this or that in their HACCP Plan, or they had to address this or that, and so on. It’s actually the establishment’s pre-requisite programs that are controlling most of the hazards, not the HACCP plan itself.
    FSIS has been pushing towards risk-based inspection for awhile but it’s difficult to assess that risk if you rely only on non-compliance records and lab results. You have to look at the entire process. How do you assess if a slaughter operation is more or less risky (therefore determining inspection intensity) than a ready-to-eat facility? E. coli contamination happens at the slaughter plant. Listeria is a problem at RTE plants. Which plant needs more inspection? I have a hard time believing a number cruncher in DC is going to be able to determine that.
    As Mr. Hamil mentions, HACCP does not work from farm to table. Its most effective in ready-to-eat processing facilities where you can set legitimate critical control points and can effectively monitor those CCP’s. A produce field, CAFO or slaughter plant cannot define clear control points. There’s just too many places throughout the process that can result in contamination. Sure, we can set a fecal zero tolerance rule in the slaughter plants but the bacteria is still sticking to the carcasses once the poop is washed off.
    I also agree with Mr. Hamill that FDA has no business being out in farmer’s fields. They do not have the slightest bit of knowledge when it comes to agriculture and it should be left to the people who do. It’s my opinion that FDA shouldn’t have anything to do with any other foods as well–their inspectors are required to inspect both medical and food facilities. When you don’t specialize in one or the other, you get employees that don’t know anything much about either.

  • FDA Investigator

    I am not necessarily opposed to combining USDA and FDA as food inspection agencies; however, in the many years that this has been discussed, I have never heard a plan discussing the impact this would have on the FDA. As an employee of this agency, I and nearly all of my co-workers are cross-trained to conduct inspections in multiple program areas such as food, drugs, biologics, etc. I have read numerous postings by Minkpuppy and generally agree with his/her point-of-view. However, on the topic of training provided to FDA personnel, we are not in agreement. Yes, most of us are cross-trained to inspect different types of companies but this does not mean that we are poorly trained or ill-prepared for an inspection. Many of Minkpuppy’s posts discuss a pride in the job and a loyalty for co-workers. I would not and will not critize the USDA as I am not familiar with the practices and policies of this agencies. Likewise, I would hope that you would know a little more about the FDA before posting a comment stating that “when you don’t specialize in one or the other, you get employees that don’t know anything much about either”. I don’t think that federal government employees need to “beat up” on other federal government employees – I would like to think that we all work towards a common goal.
    Yes, many FDA employees inspect different industries such as food, drugs, biologics, vet. medicine, etc. FDA provides us with numerous training opportunities to prepare us for these types of inspections. I believe that an investigator is an investigator meaning that a well-trained employee can and should be able to inspect different types of companies. The differences and similarities between industries and businesses only help to make us better investigators who are better-able to protect the public.
    Getting back to the point – any plan to consolidate the food protection arms of the FDA and USDA need to discuss the re-organization of the FDA. This tends to sound like an attractive idea but I have never heard how the agency would be re-organized to continue to meet requirements for the inspection of the following firms: drugs, medical devices, biologics, etc.
    The majority of all FDA investigators conduct food inspections and cross-train in at least one other area. If you move these investigators into a consolidated agency with USDA, how will the agency’s other obligations be met? This, I think, is the bigger question…

  • Minkpuppy

    FDAinvestigator,
    I bash on FSIS regularly also so please don’t take it personally. My issues are with our employing agencies not the individual inspectors I do have some questions though:
    Please explain to me why it is that one of the dual jurisdiction plants I’ve inspected has never seen an FDA investigator in the entire 15 years it’s been operating? That’s ridiculous. It’s not the only plant in this area either. We had problems had another plant last year that affected both FSIS and FDA product and it was the first time FDA investigators had been in that plant for lord knows how long.
    I keep seeing articles that say FDA does inspections at least once every x number of years but that’s obviously not happening in Texas. I hear complaints regularly from the other dual jurisdiction plants I go into daily that they have yet to see an FDA inspector in all the years they’ve been operating. At most, they get phone calls telling them they have to address this or that in their seafood haccp plan, but it seems no one ever physically comes to the plant and verifies that it was done. On days that the plants are only running FDA product, FSIS inspectors aren’t required to be there and I know some processors that take full advantage of it and let things go to heck.
    PCA somehow managed to operate for several years out in the Panhandle right under the noses of both FDA and state inspected plants. Meat processors seem to be much more willing to rat out someone who’s processing illegally–I guess it’s a competition thing.
    Other times, it seems like FDA is overzealous and heavy-handed. Taking US Marshalls in to detain product at a facility seems like overkill to me and I’ve got to wonder why it’s allowed. I have yet to hear of that happening at a USDA facility unless very serious criminal charges and an airtight case are involved.