The Honorable Tom Vilsack
United States Department of Agriculture
Room 200-A, Jamie L. Whitten Building
12th Street & Jefferson Drive, SW
Washington, DC 20250-0002
Dear Mr. Secretary:
I am writing to strongly urge the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to investigate the disturbing allegations that were revealed in Sunday’s New York Times article about the beef inspection process and to examine the necessary steps to hold accountable large slaughterhouse facilities for distributing adulterated products into the market. I am certain you are equally alarmed by the articles’ allegations regarding the current flaws in the beef inspection system that allows low-grade ingredients from being grounded into beef sold in stores without any testing for food-borne pathogens. According to the article, grinding logs and other records showed that hamburgers made from low-grade trimmings and mash-like products from a mix of slaughterhouses in Wisconsin, Nebraska, Texas and Uruguay, were labeled ‘Angus Beef Patties.’ While meat companies rely on their suppliers to check for bacteria, unwritten arrangements between some companies prevents ingredients from being tested more frequently.
Perhaps the most disturbing allegations outlined in the article relates to actions and statements by USDA officials. Although USDA inspectors found serious problems at 55 meat plants that were failing to follow their own safety plans during the investigation into the Cargill outbreak in 2007, no fines or sanctions were imposed. Also, Dr. Kenneth Peterson, FSIS assistant administrator, noted that USDA would have to consider the impact on companies before mandating any testing for ingredients that are sent to processors. However, he is quoted in the article as stating, “I have to look at the entire industry, not just what is best for public health.” This is a very disturbing quote from a USDA official whose primary objective should be to protect the public health.
Given the claims and allegations in the article, please provide responses to the following questions:
·Beef from Uruguay was able to get past the port-of-entry inspection without proper food safety certificates and ended up in ground beef products in the U.S. How was this able to occur? Meat shipments that enter a U.S. port-of-entry without the proper food safety certificates should be rejected and the foreign plant from where it came should be delisted immediately.
·Why did USDA refrain from imposing any sanctions during the investigation into the Cargill outbreak in 2007, despite finding serious problems at dozens of plants?
·Has FSIS considered any proposals that would hold large slaughterhouse facilities accountable for sending adulterated meat into the marketplace while minimizing the burden on processing facilities?
·As you know, very small processing facilities often suffer economic harm due to adulterated products sent from large slaughterhouses. In an attempt to resolve this issue, FSIS discussed a proposal in 2006 that would improve food safety infrastructure capacity of very small processors. What is the status of those discussions?
·Sec. 11017 of the 2008 farm bill requires all meat plants to have reporting requirements and mandates recall procedures. Had this provision been in effect, what would have been Cargill’s obligations during the 2007 recall referenced in the article? What is the status of the implementation of this provision?
The primary objective of USDA’s meat and poultry inspection responsibilities should be to protect the public health. Any suggestion that industry considerations should minimize the department’s ability to protect consumers from deadly food-borne pathogens should be rejected immediately.
I would appreciate responses to these questions as quickly as possible. Thank you very much for your attention to this matter and I look forward to working with you on this issue.
ROSA L. DeLAURO
House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies