Annys Shin wrote in today’s Washington Post:
After three relatively quiet years, the 20 recalls this year have raised new doubts about whether the beef industry’s attempts to keep the pathogen out of ground beef, and the government’s oversight of those efforts, are working.
Agriculture Department officials, who oversee the safety of pork, beef and poultry, say they did not recognize that anything was seriously amiss with the beef supply until the Topps recall hit.
Microbiologists say the prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in the environment is highly variable, and no one can say with certainty what caused the spike in outbreaks. In several instances this year, however, USDA officials missed red flags and were slow to correct longstanding deficiencies in the way they monitor beef processors’ efforts to contain the pathogen.
This year we’ve seen at least two industries battle E. coli – the leafy greens industry and the meat industry. Lettuce and spinach growers worked through industry associations to develop marketing agreements. In a press release issued by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Chairman of the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement communications committee and member of LGMA board of directors Tom Nunes stated, "The service mark [used by members of the agreement] reflects a handler’s commitment to implementing enhanced food safety standards. By using it on their bills of landing, our signatories will be communicating to customers that they are members in good standing of the LGMA." To date, the meat industry continues to rely on the USDA mark of inspection as its "service mark".
Ria Megnin wrote in today’s Salinas Californian about Mexico’s decision to once again begin importing US-grown lettuce:
After more than a year of frustrating international efforts, shoppers in Mexico soon will find California-grown spinach on store shelves again.
Mexico has announced that after a 16-month ban, it will allow imports of California spinach – as long as it’s grown and shipped by member-companies of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement.
Maybe demand for ground beef will also increase after FSIS makes changes to the USDA’s inspection programs – a somewhat similar move to what the spinach growers have done. In the Washington Post article, Annys Shin concluded with the following:
In November, the agency [USDA] required all plants to verify that their safety plans were working to contain O157:H7. Next month, it will begin testing imported trim — the meat left after quality cuts are removed. Its a significant development because processors are increasingly buying trim from suppliers overseas. Canadian trim turned out to be the source of contamination at Topps. For the first time, it will also look at corporate practices to see whether there is a pattern of violations at multiple plants, FSIS spokeswoman Amanda Eamich said. The inspector general is also reviewing the FSIS E. coli testing programs.
Raymond said he welcomed the scrutiny. "Any time you have somebody from outside come in and take a look, it’s always helpful," he said. "I didn’t come here to supervise recalls. I came to prevent recalls."
Maybe meat association members should take a look at what the leafy greens industry has done and not wait for government regulation by USDA, but come up with a solution on their own.