At Thursday’s hearing with Acting Under Secretary for Food Safety Brian Ronholm, members of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee addressed many of the controversies currently dogging the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Most discussed was the proposed modernization of the poultry inspection rule. While several House members, including Chairman Robert Aderholt (R-AL) and U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA), asked about various aspects of the rule, it was U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) who led the charge. In DeLauro’s eyes, the program is “based on faulty data” that affect food safety and worker safety by, among other things, allowing industry to develop its own performance standards, or limits on microbial contamination. However, Ronholm and FSIS Deputy Administrator Phil Derfler offered an avid defense of the program. In his opening statement, Ronholm acknowledged that last summer’s Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the inspection pilot program found “limitations in the agency’s data analyses.” “It should be noted that the report was not an indictment against the poultry slaughter rule,” he continued. “In fact, GAO described the pilot project, and the effort to deploy inspection resources more effectively, as a positive step.” Ronholm stated multiple times throughout the hearing that FSIS will “establish and monitor” its own performance standards on the poultry industry. Any self-regulating standards companies set would be entirely separate from the inspection rule, he added. When asked about the multi-drug-resistant Salmonella outbreak linked to Foster Farms, Ronholm brought up the agency’s Salmonella action plan, calling it a “blueprint to express our frustration” with the prevalence of the pathogen industry-wide. He added that the performance standards for chicken parts will be released by the end of this fiscal year. The standards for ground poultry are expected to take a little longer. Still in the context of Foster Farms, in which no recalls have been initiated, DeLauro asked whether FSIS would submit legislation to give the agency mandatory recall authority. Ronholm said that the agency is “happy to have a conversation” about it, but will use the tools it does have in the meantime. DeLauro suggested that FSIS consider such legislation, along with legislation to provide the authority to declare Salmonella and Campylobacter adulterants. At one point, Aderholt brought up a recent New York Times article suggesting that FSIS doesn’t have enough inspectors on the job, to which Ronholm replied that plants always have inspectors on-site and that there is a reserve pool of inspectors if the need for them arises. If there truly were a shortage of inspectors, Ronholm added, we’d see a dramatic cutback in production, but that hasn’t happened. Other topics touched on during Thursday’s hearing were support for smaller slaughterhouses, the downer calf rule, automatic shutoff of water in plants, the catfish inspection rule, antibiotic-resistant microbials, inspector overtime hours and the Rancho Feeding Corporation recall.