USDA announced the development of a new, flexible framework for animal disease traceability in the United States. The department will also undertake several other actions to further strengthen its disease prevention and response capabilities. This new approach replaces the voluntary National Animal Identification System (NAIS). Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said, “After concluding our listening tour on the National Animal Identification System in 15 cities across the country, receiving thousands of comments from the public and input from states, tribal nations, industry groups, and representatives for small and organic farmers, it is apparent that a new strategy for animal disease traceability is needed. I've decided to revise the prior policy and offer a new approach to animal disease traceability with changes that respond directly to the feedback we heard." USDA’s new framework will:
• Be administered by the states and tribal nations to provide more flexibility;
• Encourage the use of lower-cost technology; and
• Be implemented transparently through federal regulations and the full rulemaking process. USDA will convene a forum with animal health leaders, states and tribal nations to discuss “possible ways of achieving the flexible, coordinated approach to animal disease traceability we envision.”
Food Safety Initiatives for School Lunch — USDA announces several new initiatives to assure the safety and quality of food purchased by USDA for the school lunch program and other food and nutrition assistance programs. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said, “Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our nation’s school children. We must do everything we can to ensure that our kids are being served safe, high quality foods at school.” The initiatives involve the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the Farm Service Agency (FSA), and the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). The initiatives include:
• AMS will implement new food safety purchasing requirements for its beef suppliers as a result of a review of the beef purchase program conducted by FSIS and ARS. AMS will continue its zero tolerance for salmonella and E. coli O157:H7 for its products and will continue to use onsite meat acceptance specialists and other control measures.
• ARS and FSIS will provide technical assistance to AMS for school lunch and other federal nutrition assistance programs.
• In addition to the reviews by FSIS and ARS, AMS has asked the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to review the ground beef purchasing program. By the summer, NAS will conduct a thorough evaluation of the scientific validity of the current AMS technical requirements. This review will include benchmarking AMS vendor requirements against recognized industry leading programs that supply product directly to consumers.
• AMS will increase information sharing with other agencies in order to better monitor vendor performance and identify potential food safety issues in the process. Information on in-plant enforcement actions, positive pathogen test results, contract suspensions, recall notifications, and more will be better shared between USDA agencies.
• FSIS will work with AMS to review and evaluate meat, poultry, and processed egg vendors as part of the AMS vendor eligibility process.
• FNS will review and evaluate methods currently being used by state agencies to communicate with schools and school districts regarding product recalls. FNS will develop performance criteria for states that allow them to provide rapid communication to schools and school districts. FNS will provide financial assistance to states to allow them to upgrade the speed and accuracy of their food safety messages.
• FNS will also establish a Center of Excellence devoted to research on school food safety issues in FNS child nutrition programs. Research is needed in areas such as produce safety, proper cooling practices, evaluation of in-school food safety programs, and the containment of norovirus (stomach flu or gastroenteritis), which is the leading cause of foodborne illness in schools.
• FSA is evaluating and strengthening current requirements and will amend those requirements to better reflect compliance with good manufacturing practices and use of a verified Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HAACP) program. FSA will ensure that commercial suppliers are able to provide a qualified level of food safety assurance for USDA programs.
Task Force on Childhood Obesity — President Barrack Obama established a task force on childhood obesity to develop a federal interagency action plan to solve the problem of obesity among children within a generation. The task force is to make recommendations to meet the objectives of ensuring access to healthy, affordable food; increasing physical activity in schools and communities; providing healthier food in schools; and, empowering parents with information and tools to make good choices for themselves and their families. It is estimated that nearly one-third of American children are overweight or obese.
P. Scott Shearer