In response to the recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of the Inspector
General (OIG) report, which found that the agencies responsible for
monitoring veterinary drug, heavy metal, and pesticide residues are “not accomplishing” their mission, ABC News anchor Ron Claiborne sat down with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to discuss the findings.
“I think the report was valuable in pointing on some deficiencies that occurred in 2007 and 2008 and we, in 2010, are going try to make sure that we do a better job,” Vilsack told ABC News in the interview.
“But, can the public be assured that beef with potentially dangerous substances is not on the market?,” Claiborne asked.
“I think that they can because of the focus President Obama has placed on food safety,” said Vilsack, noting the creation of the President’s Food Safety Working Group (FSWG), which he said is “working hard” to improve the federal food safety system.
In the interview, Claiborne continued to press Vilsack on the issue of consumer safety. “Are inspectors catching all of the beef that may contain potentially dangerous substances, now?”
In a typical Washingtonian move, Vilsack artfully dodged the question. “I think they’re in the process of improving what they do,” he said. “You never have perfection, you strive towards perfection.”
“Overall if you take a look at the safety record of what we have today, I think we can assure people that we have a safe and ample supply of food in this country,” he added. “What people need to understand and appreciate is that we are taking this report very seriously and we’re following up on the recommendations.”
What did Vilsack find most alarming about the report? The lack of any concerted recall effort when meat failed residue testing. As Vilsack explains in the interview, FSIS does not have the authority to mandate a company recall of meat found to have excessive levels of antibiotics, heavy metals, or pesticides.
“There’s the ability to ask the supplier to recall, but statutorily we do not have the power,” he explained. “The power we have is the capacity for us to remove our inspectors from a plant, which effectively shuts down the plant. In terms of mandatory recall authority, we don’t have that.”
“It’s clear when there is a problem with
a lab test failing that there should be more aggressive recall efforts,
that’s clear,” he said. “It’s also clear we need to do a better job of more
“We are really focused on trying to reassure the consuming public of the safety of food, that’s our responsibility,” he added. “It’s also an effort on our part to make sure that farmers and ranchers are protected, because obviously when there’s a food scare it impacts the market.”
“It’s food safety, it’s personal safety, it’s health, and it’s also protection of the market.”
Video of the entire discussion with Secretary Vilsack: