US lawmakers demand further food safety measures

By Linda Rano

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food safety, United states senate

US lawmakers are demanding further food safety measures following
concerns over the recent recall of over 143,000,000 pounds of raw
and frozen meat products by a California meat packer.

The recall followed an investigation by the US Agriculture Department's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service, after video-evidence from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) showed slaughter house workers forcing crippled cattle onto their feet and into the food chain. The footage led to fears that the use of crippled cattle could increase the risk of human exposure to mad cow disease and other pathogens. Congressional committee hearing ​ Last week the US House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a meeting to discuss which measures work best in safeguarding the nation's food supply. It was attended by representatives of leading companies in the food processing industry. The beef recall was discussed along with other recent recalls. The Committee urged food manufacturers to provide serious recommendations and strongly support legislation to ensure the safety of the nation's food. Congressman John D Dingell said in a statement: "our food supply becomes more dangerous all the time. It is clear our regulatory system is broken​." The Committee is considering whether to compel the head of the packing company to attend a meeting to help clarify how on-site USDA inspectors could have missed the safety problems. GMA response ​ The US Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) issued a statement in response to the Hearing. The Association proposed a comprehensive plan for improving the safety of imported and domestic food, including one proposal that food companies voluntarily share confidential test results, laboratory data and sourcing information with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This measure would aim to give the government to give an improved focus for its limited resources to assess the safety on high-risk products and countries. The GMA also said that it had asked Congress and the Bush administration to double the FDA food safety budget over the next 5 years, to allow the agency to hire more inspectors and scientists, update its information systems and expand its testing capability. Senate subcommittee hearing ​ Later in the week there was a hearing of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee to discuss the beef recall. Senator Herb Kohl pressed a number of measures on Secretary of Agriculture, Ed Schafer, including the auditing of all 900 meat processing plants that slaughter cattle to make sure there are language-appropriate materials for workers and that employees receive proper training. Senator Kohl asked that the audit of the 23 plants supplying to the USDA nutrition programmes be carried out within 30 days, as well as demanding input on legislation to prevent future failures of the meat inspection protocols. Reuters reports that USDA Inspector General Phyllis Fong told the subcommittee her independent agency was investigating to see whether the failure to abide by the laws was an isolated incident or whether the same was happening at other plants. HSUS ​ Meanwhile, the HSUS has announced it is filing a lawsuit against the USDA to close a loophole in the regulations it says contributed to the recall. A statement by HSUS claims that in 2007 the USDA: "quietly reversed course and relaxed its rules to permit some crippled cows to be slaughtered for human consumption​." HSUS is currently under pressure to explain why it withheld the video from the USDA until the end of January, despite it being recorded in October and November.

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