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DeLauro to Obama Admin: Don’t Weaken Food Safety in Canada Trade Intiatives

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) is urging the Obama administration to not weaken food safety protections in initiatives with Canada as the two countries work to hash out the details of the Regulatory Cooperation Council and the Beyond the Border program.

“There are significant differences between the two countries’ food safety systems and easing the way for Canadian products to bypass traditional safeguards and enter U.S. markets could put public health at risk,” said DeLauro’s office in a statement released on Thursday.

The release accompanied a letter sent to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Jeffrey Zients, Acting Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, and John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.

In the letter, DeLauro points to the recent E. coli O157:H7 XL Foods recall in Canada — the largest in Canadian history — to argue that achieving greater alignment between US and Canadian regulatory approaches would have “the potential to weaken public health protections in the United States and impede USDA’s ability to prevent foodborne illness.”

“Facilitating trade should not supersede public health protections,” added DeLauro, who is a senior member of the subcommittee on agriculture appropriations.

DeLauro also outlined several key differences between the US and Canadian food safety regulatory systems, which she believes are problematic:

• “The United States has zero tolerance for Listeria monocytogenes in all Ready-to-Eat products and product contact surfaces, while the Canadian system allows for a tolerance level of less than 100 colony forming units.  As you know, listeriosis is a serious infection that may be caused by consuming contaminated foods like deli meats and hot dogs.  This grave foodborne illness primarily affects pregnant women, older adults, and newborns.  Moreover, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that hospitalization rates and case fatality rates for listeriosis are among the highest seen for foodborne illnesses.

• Earlier this month, nearly 5,000 pounds of frozen butter chicken imported from Canada were recalled because the product may have been contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.  Although the product is frozen, it is considered ‘Ready-to-Eat’ as defined by Canadian standards.  While it is obvious that frozen products need to be heated before being consumed, there are non-frozen products that require additional cooking but can still be described as ‘Ready-to-Eat’ by the Canadian definition.  Meanwhile, USDA defines ‘Ready-to-Eat’ as products that can be consumed without additional cooking or preparation, as the term implies to consumers.

• In the United States, before a meat or poultry facility is permitted to ship its product into commerce, it is required to review its hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) records to ensure that all of the plant’s critical control points have been met.  Canada does not require this pre-shipment review of a plant’s HACCP records.

• Perhaps most importantly, FSIS requires a continuous inspection presence at meat and poultry slaughter and processing facilities.  Canada does not require a daily or continuous inspection presence at its meat and poultry slaughter facilities. This significant difference could explain how the ‘high-event period’ at XL Foods went undetected for an extended period of time until identified by FSIS testing.”

The letter continues: “It is alarming that the BtB Action Plan establishes a pilot program that would allow a Canadian establishment to ship fresh beef and pork products directly to an FSIS-inspected facility, bypassing border inspection.  The XL Foods recall underscores the importance of border testing and demonstrates that there are questions as to whether the Canadian food safety system for meat is truly equivalent to the U.S. system…I strongly urge you to prevent any food safety-related measures from being included in these initiatives.”

© Food Safety News
  • http://twitter.com/kwarrine Keith Warriner

    Strange how a bunch of academics and Industry in the US pushed for the same risk-based system for Listeria monocytogenes as we have in Canada. What a difference a year makes in food safety. 

  • Mark FeDuke

    DeLauro raises some valid points but the topic also serves to remind us of the lack of across the board harmonization within the food safety arena. There are feed additives that are used in pork production which are fine by both US and Canadian standards and as FSN reported earlier this year Codex even agreed to set MRLs for one very specific feed additive only for the EU to completely reject that idea and its use is still banned by China and now the Russians won’t allow in US or Canadian pork testing positive for this specific feed additive. Then there’s the orange juice Carbendazim matter…..Canadian companies imported US origin orange juice concentrate to use in their juice production and upon export to the USA the products were refused entry by FDA…US orange juice testing positive for Carbendazim at levels up to 80ppb was deemed to be perfectly fine for consumption in the USA but imports…even imports of US origin orange juice….testing at or above 10ppb were refused as being “adulterated” given that different “food safety” rules apply to imports. Trade and food safety must be aligned and are clearly complicated matters warranting thorough discussion but they are also all too often subject to a good deal of politics…. 

  • Richard Raymond

    it is true that some Canadian meat processing plants do not have daily, federal inspection, but they are not allowed to export to the US because they are not “equivalent”.

  • Paul Coupland

    Public Health
    Protections should supersede Facilitating Trade

    Paul Coupland