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OTA applauds proposed rule exempting organics from check-off programs

The U.S. Department of Agriculture ruled that organic farmers and handlers are exempt from paying into conventional commodity check-off programs, saying that it is an important step that recognizes the organic industry’s unique needs and lets the industry decide where the dollars are best spent.

“OTA has worked very hard to get this exemption on the books, and we are optimistic that this important regulation will now soon take effect,” Laura Batch, executive director and chief executive officer of the Organic Trade Association, the leading organization of the organic industry, said in a statement. “The organic sector is a fast-growing, distinct industry with its own unique demands for research and promotion. We’re pleased USDA is moving swiftly to allow the industry to use its money to grow and develop its own sector.”

National commodity research and promotion check-off programs, funded by producers of the specific commodity, have been a part of American agriculture for almost 50 years. There are now 22 national check-off programs in place, ranging from the oldest check-off program begun in 1966 for cotton, to one of the newest that promotes American-grown mangos. The iconic “Got Milk” and “The Incredible Edible Egg” campaigns are examples of promotion and education programs paid for by successful producer-funded check-offs.

The proposed exemption, which was expanded by Congress in the farm bill of 2014, would extend the exemption for organic farmers, handlers, marketers or importers from just the 100 percent organic label to the primary organic label (95 percent organic) and pertain not exclusively to farmers or handlers who work solely with organic products, but also to those who produce, process, handle and import both organic and conventional products.

The exemption from conventional commodity check-off program assessments is very significant for certified organic operations. The USDA estimates that not having to contribute to conventional check-offs will free up an extra $ 13.6 million for organic stakeholders to invest back into the organic industry.

“These additional savings that will be available as a result of this exemption can be used by organic farmers, ranchers and handlers to address everyday problems and to tackle issues that will help advance their businesses and the organic sector,” Batcha added in the statement.

The USDA proposed rule will also exempt eligible operations from paying into the portion of the assessment in federal marketing order programs designated for market promotion activities. There are 23 marketing order programs with market promotion authority.

The USDA published the notice of the proposed changes Dec. 16 in the Federal Register, with a 30-day public comment period.

“OTA is heartened by USDA’s quick action to get this provision implemented and to allow for a concise 30-day comment period,” Marni Karlin, vice president of government affairs for OTA, added in the statement. “It is the result of the clear and unambiguous farm bill language passed with strong bipartisan support and signed into law by the president. These important gains for organic farmers and the organic industry were achieved through lots of hard work by organic stakeholders.”

The 2014 Farm Bill also authorizes USDA to consider and hold a vote on an organic research and promotion check-off program if the organic sector submits to the agency an official proposal for an organic check-off. OTA has been gathering input from organic stakeholders for the past three years on how best to shape a check-off program that could effectively serve the industry.

The organic industry is experiencing booming times, with organic sales hitting a new record of over $ 35 billion in 2013. More than 80 percent of families in the U.S. now buy organic products.

“The successes in the organic industry have been enormous,” Batcha added. “However, there is still much that needs to be done in the way of educating consumers about organic, devoting more research dollars to organic agriculture, and helping farmers to convert to organic. Giving the industry more ability to invest in its future is very significant.”

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Egg-Producing States to Appeal California’s Battery Cage Rule

Notice has been filed of a planned appeal by several egg-producing states outside California objecting to the requirement that only eggs from hens kept in so-called Proposition 2 cages can be sold in California. A trial judge earlier rejected the claims on grounds the states representing their egg producers lacked standing to bring the case.

Most U.S. egg producers use battery cages, which California voters in 2008 said had to be phased out in that state based on concerns about how much space hens should have to stand up and turn around. When it became apparent that the California requirement would put its egg producers at an unfair disadvantage, state lawmakers extended Proposition 2 requirements to all producers selling eggs in California.

It all goes into effect on Jan. 1st, a date that will likely see egg markets disrupted with possible price increases in California.

States filing notice of appeal — Alabama, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Kentucky — argue California is imposing an unfair and unconstitutional trade restriction on out-of-state eggs.

California’s new dictates for cage sizes have so far had little impact on how U.S. egg producers house their hens — about 95 percent still use their battery cage systems. It’s unclear how many egg producers in California have switched to Prop 2 cages.

Battery cage infrastructure not only provides housing for the hens, but also are complex systems for feeding and watering, waste disposal, and collecting the eggs. Egg producers say battery cages help prevent disease and turn out cleaner eggs.

Changing out all battery cages in the U.S. might cost as much as $ 10 billion. Attempts to set a national standard for laying hen cages failed both as standalone bills and as an inclusion to the 2014 Farm Bill.

Three other states — Michigan, Oregon, and Washington State — have adopted their own cage requirements, but only California is attempting to restrict trade from other states and foreign countries based on the issue.

Food Safety News

Egg-Producing States to Appeal California’s Battery Cage Rule

Notice has been filed of a planned appeal by several egg-producing states outside California objecting to the requirement that only eggs from hens kept in so-called Proposition 2 cages can be sold in California. A trial judge earlier rejected the claims on grounds the states representing their egg producers lacked standing to bring the case.

Most U.S. egg producers use battery cages, which California voters in 2008 said had to be phased out in that state based on concerns about how much space hens should have to stand up and turn around. When it became apparent that the California requirement would put its egg producers at an unfair disadvantage, state lawmakers extended Proposition 2 requirements to all producers selling eggs in California.

It all goes into effect on Jan. 1st, a date that will likely see egg markets disrupted with possible price increases in California.

States filing notice of appeal — Alabama, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Kentucky — argue California is imposing an unfair and unconstitutional trade restriction on out-of-state eggs.

California’s new dictates for cage sizes have so far had little impact on how U.S. egg producers house their hens — about 95 percent still use their battery cage systems. It’s unclear how many egg producers in California have switched to Prop 2 cages.

Battery cage infrastructure not only provides housing for the hens, but also are complex systems for feeding and watering, waste disposal, and collecting the eggs. Egg producers say battery cages help prevent disease and turn out cleaner eggs.

Changing out all battery cages in the U.S. might cost as much as $ 10 billion. Attempts to set a national standard for laying hen cages failed both as standalone bills and as an inclusion to the 2014 Farm Bill.

Three other states — Michigan, Oregon, and Washington State — have adopted their own cage requirements, but only California is attempting to restrict trade from other states and foreign countries based on the issue.

Food Safety News

Egg-Producing States to Appeal California’s Battery Cage Rule

Notice has been filed of a planned appeal by several egg-producing states outside California objecting to the requirement that only eggs from hens kept in so-called Proposition 2 cages can be sold in California. A trial judge earlier rejected the claims on grounds the states representing their egg producers lacked standing to bring the case.

Most U.S. egg producers use battery cages, which California voters in 2008 said had to be phased out in that state based on concerns about how much space hens should have to stand up and turn around. When it became apparent that the California requirement would put its egg producers at an unfair disadvantage, state lawmakers extended Proposition 2 requirements to all producers selling eggs in California.

It all goes into effect on Jan. 1st, a date that will likely see egg markets disrupted with possible price increases in California.

States filing notice of appeal — Alabama, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Kentucky — argue California is imposing an unfair and unconstitutional trade restriction on out-of-state eggs.

California’s new dictates for cage sizes have so far had little impact on how U.S. egg producers house their hens — about 95 percent still use their battery cage systems. It’s unclear how many egg producers in California have switched to Prop 2 cages.

Battery cage infrastructure not only provides housing for the hens, but also are complex systems for feeding and watering, waste disposal, and collecting the eggs. Egg producers say battery cages help prevent disease and turn out cleaner eggs.

Changing out all battery cages in the U.S. might cost as much as $ 10 billion. Attempts to set a national standard for laying hen cages failed both as standalone bills and as an inclusion to the 2014 Farm Bill.

Three other states — Michigan, Oregon, and Washington State — have adopted their own cage requirements, but only California is attempting to restrict trade from other states and foreign countries based on the issue.

Food Safety News

Egg-Producing States to Appeal California’s Battery Cage Rule

Notice has been filed of a planned appeal by several egg-producing states outside California objecting to the requirement that only eggs from hens kept in so-called Proposition 2 cages can be sold in California. A trial judge earlier rejected the claims on grounds the states representing their egg producers lacked standing to bring the case.

Most U.S. egg producers use battery cages, which California voters in 2008 said had to be phased out in that state based on concerns about how much space hens should have to stand up and turn around. When it became apparent that the California requirement would put its egg producers at an unfair disadvantage, state lawmakers extended Proposition 2 requirements to all producers selling eggs in California.

It all goes into effect on Jan. 1st, a date that will likely see egg markets disrupted with possible price increases in California.

States filing notice of appeal — Alabama, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Kentucky — argue California is imposing an unfair and unconstitutional trade restriction on out-of-state eggs.

California’s new dictates for cage sizes have so far had little impact on how U.S. egg producers house their hens — about 95 percent still use their battery cage systems. It’s unclear how many egg producers in California have switched to Prop 2 cages.

Battery cage infrastructure not only provides housing for the hens, but also are complex systems for feeding and watering, waste disposal, and collecting the eggs. Egg producers say battery cages help prevent disease and turn out cleaner eggs.

Changing out all battery cages in the U.S. might cost as much as $ 10 billion. Attempts to set a national standard for laying hen cages failed both as standalone bills and as an inclusion to the 2014 Farm Bill.

Three other states — Michigan, Oregon, and Washington State — have adopted their own cage requirements, but only California is attempting to restrict trade from other states and foreign countries based on the issue.

Food Safety News

15 Members of Congress Ask Vilsack For More Answers on Poultry Inspection Rule

Fifteen members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on Friday with questions about the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS).

The members — including Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY) — wrote that they are “extremely disappointed” that the agency didn’t address their concerns about the rule, adding that it is “detrimental to food and worker safety” and “abdicates food safety oversight from USDA.”

The letter asks Vilsack about an implementation timeline and agency plans for what happens if more (or fewer) than the expected 219 plants decide to shift to the new system, how FSIS will verify that NPIS plants are meeting requirements and producing safe food, how many positions will be displaced or eliminated, health and safety activities at the plants, and how the agency will make sure the plants adhere to animal welfare laws.

They also inquire in the letter what penalties there will be for NPIS plants involved in a foodborne illness outbreak. Specifically, the members want to know if such plants will have to give up the system.

The members request answers to their questions within 30 days so that they can further evaluate the rule.

Food Safety News

Petition: Wisconsin Supreme Court Should Rule on Raw-Milk ‘Right’

Anyone may purchase a cow and drink its raw milk, but do the people of Wisconsin have a “right to purchase and drink raw milk”?

That’s what the losers in a recent Wisconsin Appeals Court case want to know, and they’ve petitioned the state Supreme Court to see if they can get their question answered.

It’s the latest scheme by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund to carve out some “rights” around food and thereby advance the food freedom movement. In their world, raw milk is one of pillars of that campaign.

Wisconsin prohibits the retail sale of raw milk because, until it’s pasteurized, milk may contain potentially harmful bacteria such as Campylobacter and E. coli O157:H7. But about 1 percent of all consumers think pasteurization also kills beneficial bacteria found in raw milk, and they believe there are health benefits derived from drinking it.

The case the Wisconsin Supreme Court is being asked to review was a two-for-one loss for raw-milk advocates because it was the result of two consolidated cases.

The decision being appealed to the high court resulted from the consolidation of two cases involving Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund plaintiffs. The combination of issues, however, did not result in the court offering any opinion on whether there is a right to purchase and drink unpasteurized milk in Wisconsin.

For the part of the case known for the “Zinniker plaintiffs,” the appeals court’s Aug. 7 decision upheld state agriculture’s revocation of the license of a Walworth County raw-milk dairy that was involved in a 2009 outbreak. The dairy then attempted to get around the license requirement with a limited liability corporation called “Nourished by Nature.”

State regulators  called that arrangement a “sham,” and Farm-to-Consumer filed the lawsuit. The 4th District Appeals Court decision agreed with the trial court, finding that the distribution of raw milk without a state producer’s license is a crime.

“Even assuming that the members of Nourished by Nature have a right to consume unpasteurized milk, the Zinnikers do not have a legal right to operate a dairy farm as milk producers without a license,” the appeals court ruling stated.

In the part of the decision involving the “GrassWay plaintiffs,” both the facts and the outcome were similar. An organic farm store wanted to sell raw milk to members of an association who paid a fee to the store, but, under a producer’s license, the department said the store was not allowed to sell or distribute the product.

Food Safety News

Food & Water Watch Sues USDA Over New Poultry Inspection Rule

Food & Water Watch (FWW) filed a lawsuit against the Department of Agriculture on Thursday that would stop the implementation of the agency’s New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS).

The new poultry inspection rule, announced July 31, requires additional microbiological testing at all poultry processing facilities and introduces a fifth inspection system available for U.S. plants to voluntarily adopt. NPIS is based on the HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) and directs poultry companies to sort their own product for quality defects before presenting it to an FSIS inspector.

The consumer group is concerned that the system allows companies to privatize poultry inspection.

According to USDA, the goal of NPIS is to free up inspectors from each line to be able to ensure that sampling and testing are done properly and sanitation requirements are met, and to verify compliance with food safety rules.

Wenonah Hauter, FWW executive director, said that the system “flies in the face of the agency’s mandate to protect consumers,” and the the complaint states that it will deny consumers “the right to know which products that have an official inspection legend and establishment number are actually federally inspected.”

FWW believes that NPIS violates the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) requirement that federal government inspectors, and not poultry slaughter establishment staff, are responsible for condemning adulterated young chicken and turkey carcasses.

The organization is also concerned that allowing line speeds to increase to 140 young chickens per minute for NPIS establishments means that carcasses can pass by one federal inspector much faster than under the Streamlined Inspection System (SIS), which limits each inspector to 35 carcasses per minute, and the New Line Speed Inspection System (NELS), which limits them to 30.

Further, the complaint states that the “proposed NPIS rules were not similar to the final rules in a number of ways,” that there was “inadequate risk analysis and response to comments,” and that there was no opportunity for the organization to orally present its views about the rules at a public meeting.

“USDA’s new system will harm consumers and reverse 100 years of effective government regulation of the meat industry,” Hauter said. “It’s essentially a return to Upton Sinclair’s ‘The Jungle.’ It’s a huge step backwards for our food safety system.”

Food Safety News

Food & Water Watch Sues USDA Over New Poultry Inspection Rule

Food & Water Watch (FWW) filed a lawsuit against the Department of Agriculture on Thursday that would stop the implementation of the agency’s New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS).

The new poultry inspection rule, announced July 31, requires additional microbiological testing at all poultry processing facilities and introduces a fifth inspection system available for U.S. plants to voluntarily adopt. NPIS is based on the HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) and directs poultry companies to sort their own product for quality defects before presenting it to an FSIS inspector.

The consumer group is concerned that the system allows companies to privatize poultry inspection.

According to USDA, the goal of NPIS is to free up inspectors from each line to be able to ensure that sampling and testing are done properly and sanitation requirements are met, and to verify compliance with food safety rules.

Wenonah Hauter, FWW executive director, said that the system “flies in the face of the agency’s mandate to protect consumers,” and the the complaint states that it will deny consumers “the right to know which products that have an official inspection legend and establishment number are actually federally inspected.”

FWW believes that NPIS violates the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) requirement that federal government inspectors, and not poultry slaughter establishment staff, are responsible for condemning adulterated young chicken and turkey carcasses.

The organization is also concerned that allowing line speeds to increase to 140 young chickens per minute for NPIS establishments means that carcasses can pass by one federal inspector much faster than under the Streamlined Inspection System (SIS), which limits each inspector to 35 carcasses per minute, and the New Line Speed Inspection System (NELS), which limits them to 30.

Further, the complaint states that the “proposed NPIS rules were not similar to the final rules in a number of ways,” that there was “inadequate risk analysis and response to comments,” and that there was no opportunity for the organization to orally present its views about the rules at a public meeting.

“USDA’s new system will harm consumers and reverse 100 years of effective government regulation of the meat industry,” Hauter said. “It’s essentially a return to Upton Sinclair’s ‘The Jungle.’ It’s a huge step backwards for our food safety system.”

Food Safety News

Trade Association Wants FDA to Change and Reissue FSMA Transport Rule

The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) wants the Food and Drug Administration to make significant changes to its proposed rule for sanitary food transportation under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

In addition, the association is asking that FDA reissue language for parts of the rule like it plans to do with the produce safety, preventive controls for human food, preventive controls for animal food, and Foreign Supplier Verification Program rules.

“Given the very significant nature of these regulations, we believe that a second opportunity for stakeholder comment is essential to ensure that the requirements in the final rule are practical, achievable and foster the safe transport and distribution of human and animal food,” read the NGFA comments submitted to FDA on July 30. “Further, we believe FDA has the ability and authority to re-propose the regulations and still comply with the court-ordered deadline to publish a final rule by March 31, 2016.”

FDA has informed Food Safety News that it does not currently have plans to re-release parts of the rule.

NGFA believes in the responsibility of rail carriers and truck transporters to provide clean conveyances and transportation equipment suitable for the type of human and animal food shipped, but it considers some of the proposed FSMA requirements to be excessive and could add unnecessary burdens and costs “without a commensurate improvement in product safety.”

Some of the changes the association requests include:

  • Identifying only the immediate previous haul in bulk trucks or rail cars, rather than the three previous ones.
  • Eliminating the requirement that electronic records be kept in order to comply with rules that “stipulate extensive computer validation.”
  • Doing away with the proposal to exempt shippers, carriers and receivers that have less than $ 500,000 in total annual sales.
  • Deleting the requirement for hand-washing facilities unless human contact with the food could cause it to become adulterated or unfit for human or animal consumption.
  • Clearer definitions for several terms. For example, they say “shipper” should only apply to the party that loads a shipment instead of brokers or third-party logistics operators.

NGFA also recommends that FDA develop guidance on good transportation practices, as well as user-friendly educational materials, pertaining to the safe transport of such products by farms.

In addition, the association wants additional exemptions to be provided for transfers of food between facilities owned by the same parent or corporate entity and for trucks and rail lines that transport the same type of food continually, such as shuttle trains and privately owned railcars that haul grains and oilseeds on a dedicated circuitous route.

The comments express support for various aspects of the proposed rule, including FDA’s tentative conclusion to exempt the transport of live food-producing animals from the regulation and the agency’s intent to provide flexibility to shippers, carriers and receivers concerning appropriate sanitary transportation practices (including not prescribing specific sanitation practices).

NGFA also supports the decision, given constrained U.S. transportation capacity and severe rail service disruptions, not to restrict access for human and animal food to certain classes or types of rail or truck conveyances or transportation equipment.

Food Safety News

Reactions Vary to USDA’s Poultry Inspection Rule

The U.S. Department of Agriculture published the final rule of its Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection on Thursday, requiring all poultry processing plants to engage in additional microbiological testing and establishing the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS), which companies can choose to opt into or not.

Predictably, the agency’s move drew reactions from across the spectrum.

“USDA is to be commended for standing up for food safety in the face of significant pressure,” said National Turkey Federation President Joel Brandenberger, adding that the rule “provides additional tools to plants and federal inspectors to verify that plant food-safety programs are protecting against foodborne illness.”

One of the major complaints about the rule when it was proposed in 2012 was that it increased the maximum inspection line speed to 175 birds per minute. USDA said it heard these comments and decided to keep the maximum at 140 birds per minute as allowed in its other inspection systems.

The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) — the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the U.S. — had a modestly positive reaction to the line speed change.

“Responding to a key concern raised by the courageous poultry workers who exposed the human cost of bringing chicken to our dinner plates, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez today took an important step to prioritize worker safety,” said NCLR CEO and President Janet Murguía. “Although life-altering injuries are already far too widespread among this workforce, I am proud to say that the collective efforts of tireless advocates helped the administration prevent a bad situation from becoming worse.”

Joe Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, thanked “coalition partners in labor, food safety and the civil rights community for standing side by side with us throughout this process.” In his statement, Hansen also thanked the U.S. Department of Labor “for raising important safety questions” and Vilsack “for listening to our concerns and taking the necessary steps to fix this rule.”

But not everyone was pleased with the outcome. Some groups say that 140 birds per minute — with 2.3 seconds to inspect each bird — is still too fast.

“This is not a meaningful victory because there are not accompanying worker safety regulations to deal with the musculoskeletal disorders and other work-related injuries that both the plant workers and USDA inspectors suffer every day working in the poultry slaughter plants,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.

Industry was disappointed with the line speed change for a different reason: “It is extremely unfortunate and disappointing that politics have trumped sound science, 15 years of food and worker safety data and a successful pilot program with plants operating at 175 birds per minute,” said National Chicken Council President Mike Brown. “The rule also goes against global precedent, in which the limiting factors for line speeds are the ability to meet food safety standards, keeping workers safe, and the capability of the equipment to run effectively — not government regulations. Broiler plants in Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Belgium and Germany, among others, all operate at line speeds of 200 or more birds per minute.”

Others are still wary of the rule’s ability to address food safety concerns.

“This rule means fewer USDA food safety inspectors in poultry slaughter facilities, which is a recipe for more foodborne illness and more people in the hospital,” said Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY). “We fully expect industry will flock to the more lax HIMP processing, which has not been supported by rigorous evaluation.”

While also dealing with the denial of their petition to USDA to have strains of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella declared as adulterants, the Center for Science in the Public Interest said that, “With more than 600 people sick from the Foster Farms outbreak alone, this is hardly the time to reduce USDA’s oversight of the poultry industry.”

Food Safety News

FSIS Poultry Rule Requires More Pathogen Testing, Introduces Voluntary Inspection System

The new poultry inspection rule announced today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires additional microbiological testing at all poultry processing facilities and introduces a fifth inspection system available for U.S. plants to voluntarily adopt.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called the rule a “longstanding effort” to “modernize our system” and said the agency is confident that it will result in safer food.

USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) already tests for Salmonella and Campylobacter, Vilsack said, but this rule requires plants to do additional testing at least twice per shift.

“They will have to pick the pathogen that they believe is a hazard within their establishment, and, being a poultry establishment, it could either be Campylobacter or Salmonella,” said FSIS Administrator Al Almanza.

“This is extraordinarily important,” Vilsack said. “We think it will increase the chances of us detecting problems and it places a responsibility and burden on the processing facility to do additional testing.”

The New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) is based on the HAACP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) and directs poultry companies to sort their own product for quality defects before presenting it to FSIS inspectors.

“In this option, we’re moving away from a system that was devised and designed as far back as 1957, where individual inspectors are at the beginning of a line taking a look at issues that really involve quality assurance, not so much food safety,” Vilsack said. “We still have a responsibility to inspect carcasses, and we will continue to have inspectors at the end of the evisceration line doing that important inspection.”

The goal is to free up inspectors on each line to be able to ensure that sampling and testing are done properly and sanitation requirements are met, and to verify compliance with food safety rules.

“They’re all going to be performing food safety tasks that are more relevant to public health and food safety than sorting duties that they’re relegated to today,” Almanza said.

After many public comments expressed concern that the proposed increased line speed of 175 birds per minute would jeopardize worker safety, FSIS responded by maintaining the maximum line speed of 140 birds per minute to match all other existing poultry inspection systems.

According to Vilsack, the plants that have been using HIMP on an experimental basis for more than a decade have an average line speed of 131 birds per minute.

“We are still looking to improve worker safety,” he said. The rule also requires plants adopting the NPIS system to set up a method of notifying employees about initial indications of injury and encouraging early reporting of injury. In addition, FSIS inspectors will be trained to watch for injuries and report concerns directly to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

FSIS estimates that the NPIS will prevent nearly 5,000 Salmonella and Campylobacter foodborne illnesses each year. The system is part of the agency’s Salmonella Action Plan, unveiled last December, along with revised pathogen reduction performance standards for all poultry and new standards for poultry parts, which will be announced later this year.

Vilsack said that the department does not have an estimate of how many companies will choose to opt in to NPIS.

“This is a significant opportunity to bring the inspection system for poultry into the 21st century, relying on sampling and testing, understanding the science of pathogens much better than we did in 1957, and, I think, it also reflects a department that took very seriously the comments that were provided over the last several years about this rule,” Vilsack said.

Food Safety News

Groups Ask OMB, USDA to Release Revised Poultry Rule for Public Comment

Organizations representing workers and consumers want the Department of Agriculture to follow the Food and Drug Administration’s lead by releasing the revised poultry inspection rule for public comment.

Last week, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) submitted a draft final version of its Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection rule to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review.

At the time, an agency spokesperson said, “Although we do not discuss the specifics of a rule under review, the draft rule has been significantly informed by the feedback we received from our stakeholders, as well as from our interagency partners such as the Department of Labor.”

But, in a July 16 letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Howard Shelanski, administrator for OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the Safe Food Coalition argued that “stakeholders have no information about what those changes entail.”

The group wants to see the revised rule released to the public for public meetings and a 120-day comment period — not a requirement under normal rule-making procedures.

“We have raised numerous concerns about the negative impact USDA’s proposal will have on food safety and consumer protection,” wrote signatories Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Food & Water Watch, Government Accountability Project, National Consumers League and STOP Foodborne Illness.

The American Federation of Government Employees — the poultry inspectors’ union — sent a similar letter stating, “Many other labor unions, consumer groups, members of Congress, and even federal government agencies have raised concerns as well.”

AFGE Legislative and Political Director Beth Moten wrote that, because the rule is so important, “stakeholders and the public should be given the opportunity to comment on the ‘significant changes’ made to the proposed rule before it is finalized.”

Re-releasing the rule would not be unprecedented. By the end of the summer, FDA will release revised language for the Food Safety Modernization Act’s rules regarding human food preventive controls, animal food preventive controls, produce safety and the Foreign Supplier Verification Program.

The same move for the poultry inspection rule would enhance transparency, the groups said.

“The USDA needs to come clean about what changes it has since made to the rule,” stated the Organic Consumers Association in its call for public comment. “Otherwise, the agency’s lack of transparency on this issue leaves us wondering what it is hiding.”

When asked whether FSIS plans to re-release the rule, a spokesperson told Food Safety News that the agency would have no further comment beyond last week’s statement that the rule had been submitted to OMB after incorporating stakeholder feedback — in particular, worker safety concerns.

Food Safety News

USDA rule would require strict records for ground beef

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has proposed a rule that would improve the traceability of ground beef by requiring all producers of such products to keep extensive records.

Under the proposal retailers would have to record the source, supplier and names of all materials used when making ground beef. FSIS said ground beef sold at retail is often produced by combining cuts from multiple sources, which can be problematic when the agency works to identify the source of a foodborne illness outbreak.

“The improved traceback capabilities that would result from this proposal will prevent foodborne illness by allowing FSIS to conduct recalls of potentially contaminated raw ground products in a timelier manner,” USDA deputy under secretary for food safety Brian Ronholm said in a press release. “By requiring retail outlets to maintain improved records on sources for ground products, the proposal will enable FSIS to quickly identify likely sources of contaminated product linked to an outbreak.”

Full details of the proposed rule can be found on the FSIS website. Interested parties will have 60 days to comment on the proposal once it has been published in the Federal Register.

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Supermarket News

FSIS Proposed Rule Requires Source Records for Ground Beef Products

ground beefThe U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing to require all makers of raw ground beef products to keep records of the meat’s sources.

Retail outlets regularly make ground beef by mixing cuts of beef from various sources. This proposal, if finalized, will require them to keep clear records identifying the source, supplier, and names of all materials used in the preparation of raw ground beef products.

This would help USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) when tracing the producer of ground meat linked to a foodborne illness outbreak.

“The improved traceback capabilities that would result from this proposal will prevent foodborne illness by allowing FSIS to conduct recalls of potentially contaminated raw ground products in a timelier manner,” said Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Brian Ronholm. “By requiring retail outlets to maintain improved records on sources for ground products, the proposal will enable FSIS to quickly identify likely sources of contaminated product linked to an outbreak.”

“FSIS has concluded that record-keeping by retail facilities that grind raw beef to date has not been sufficiently effective,” reads the agency’s statement. “This proposal is in keeping with the agency’s latest efforts to target its food safety prevention tools at areas that will have the most significant public health impact.”

FSIS has opened a public comment period on the proposed rule that will end 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

Food Safety News

USDA Sends Controversial Poultry Inspection Rule to OMB

The U.S. Department of Agriculture submitted a draft final version of its Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection rule to the Office of Management and Budget for review today.

The proposal to build on the HACCP Based Models Project (HIMP) has been a controversial one.

Critics such as Food & Water Watch are concerned that the program privatizes poultry inspections, decreases the number of USDA inspectors, replaces inspectors with untrained company employees, and allows inspection line speeds to go from 140 birds a minute to 175 birds a minute.

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) position is that a system like HIMP will prevent at least 5,000 more foodborne illnesses annually. While the proposal would improve efficiency and save taxpayer dollars, the agency states that the rule shifts focus from visual inspection for defects to sampling for bacteria and control of the facility’s sanitary conditions.

“Although we do not discuss the specifics of a rule under review, the draft rule has been significantly informed by the feedback we received from our stakeholders, as well as from our interagency partners such as the Department of Labor,” an FSIS spokesperson told Food Safety News. “Specifically, USDA received numerous comments raising worker safety as a potential side effect of the rule, and it has partnered with the federal agencies responsible for worker safety to address these concerns in the draft final rule.”

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report from August 2013 listed responsibility and flexibility, more focus on food safety, potential job creation and increased production as strengths of the program. But noted weaknesses included training, increased line speeds that have the potential to impact food and worker safety, and a reduced ability to see potential defects.

In a written response to a draft of the GAO report, then-Undersecretary of Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen agreed with the recommendations and stated that, when USDA issues the final rule, “FSIS will present the updated analyses, including the cost-benefit analysis, in a manner that will facilitate public understanding of the information used to support the rulemaking.”

FSIS has cited a study conducted by the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to support the claim that the increase in line speed is not a significant factor in worker safety, although NIOSH Director John Howard a letter to President Obama asking that the White House withdraw the proposed rule, and 68 members of Congress, including Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY), asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to do the same.

OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is limited to 90 days to review draft regulation, but the review period may be extended by the head of the rulemaking agency, and the OMB director may extend the review period on a one-time basis for no more than 30 days.

Food Safety News

FDA Releases Final Rule for Infant Formula

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has published its final rule regarding infant formula standards.

While breastfeeding is strongly recommended and many mothers hope to breastfeed their infants, most newborns in the U.S. rely on infant formula for some portion of their nutrition. The rule is meant to ensure that formulas for infants without unusual medical or dietary problems are safe and support healthy growth.

The final rule contains some modifications, clarifications and technical revisions that differ from the interim final rule issued on Feb. 10, 2014. Manufacturers must comply with the final rule by Sept. 8, 2014.

It establishes Current Good Manufacturing Practices specifically for infant formula, which include required testing for the pathogens Salmonella and Cronobacter. It also establishes quality control procedures, requirements about how and when manufacturers must notify FDA about new formulas, including major changes to formulas, and requirements concerning record keeping.

Manufacturers must demonstrated that their infant formulas support normal physical growth and test them for nutrient content in the final product stage, before entering the market, and at the end of the products’ shelf life.

FDA says that companies currently manufacturing infant formula in the U.S. already voluntarily conduct many of the Current Good Manufacturing Practices and quality control procedures included in the rule.

Food Safety News

FSMA Sanitary Transportation Rule Comment Period Extended

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced that it will be extending the comment period on the sanitary transportation rule issued under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

The comment period was originally set to end May 31, but the deadline has been extended to June 30 in response to requests for additional time.

The rule is the seventh and final major rule of FSMA. It was proposed at the end of January and will require shippers, receivers and carriers who transport food by motor or rail vehicles to take steps to prevent the contamination of human and animal food during transportation.

FDA has already held three public meetings on the rule. At the meeting in College Park, MD, the issue of whether the rule’s exemption for live animals extends to shellfish was brought to the agency’s attention.

The final rule is required to be released by March 31, 2016.

Food Safety News

EU to rule on SA citrus exports

EU to rule on SA citrus exports

South African citrus growers will know today whether their efforts to prevent citrus black spot are enough to please the fussy EU market.

The fate of citrus exports worth about R4 billion has been hanging in the balance since last year following the detection of citrus black spot, a fungal disease that is endemic to South Africa but unable to survive in Europe.

South Africa was, after Spain and Turkey, the largest citrus exporter to world markets in 2012.

Earlier this year, the European Food Safety Authority revised its risk assessment on citrus black spot and found there was some risk associated with imports from South Africa. The authority recommended the EU regulations should be retained and compliance should be enforced.

Deon Joubert, the special envoy on market access and EU matters at the Citrus Growers Association, said yesterday that South Africa was presenting its case to the European Commission and that a standing committee on plant health would make its decision today.

Joubert denied earlier reports by other media that the European Commission was proposing to drop its ban on local citrus exports.

He stressed that there never had been a ban on South Africa’s citrus exports and if there was one, “it was only symbolic and not practical”.

Joubert said the discussions taking place in Europe now were in fact on what regime or set of rules South Africa would adopt for its exports this year.

“So the discussion today is a typical discussion, on what would be the regime or import arrangement for 2014. There was a ban last year but it was more symbolic,” he said.

However, earlier speculation suggested that the European Commission might drop the ban on South African produce, which could be reimposed.

The media report further stated that the commission would impose a ban should black spot disease be found in five different shipments from South Africa, a situation growers could not afford, according to Joubert.

He stressed that, together with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, local growers had over the past year worked tirelessly to prevent the fungal disease.

He had canvassed the association’s preventative measures with Spanish growers and its agriculture ministry, as well as other stakeholders.

“They seemed to be impressed that these measures were scientifically sound and practical and a lot of these suggestions and proposals have been introduced to the local citrus black spot risk management system under which we export.”

Measures included cleaning up water and spraying for black spot which killed the fungus before it settled.

The third measure, Joubert said, was to make sure that no packaged products had black spot on them.

Justin Chadwick, the chief executive of the Citrus Growers Association, was comforted by the fact that more growers were able to withdraw produce from suspected orchards destined for the EU.

“To date in 2014, over 1 100 orchards had been withdrawn as a proactive step to reducing the likelihood of interceptions compared to 102 orchards last year,” he said.

Chadwick’s initial estimates indicate that 2014 will be a bumper crop for the local citrus industry.

Citrus growers are expected to export about 1.7 million tons this year.

The first South African citrus to hit overseas shelves are Satsumas and the country has already packed half of the 1.7 million carton destined for the UK and northern European markets.

Source: www.iol.co.za

Publication date: 4/30/2014


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