Everyone:

Please find below a Press Release issued by Senator Jon Tester this Wednesday, announcing his introduction of the “Meat Safety and Accountability Act“, aka “The Traceback Bill“.  If it passes, USDA would be forced to trace back to the slaughterhouse of origin of enteric bacteria, namely E.coli and Salmonella.  USDA has publicly admitted that it will NOT perform Tracebacks when agency-collected samples of ground beef are determined to be contaminated with E.coli.  Instead, USDA will only do tracebacks when E.coli-laced meat causes an outbreak.

I’ve worked for two years trying to convince our delegation to introduce this bill, and had been unsuccessful until this month.  Senator Tester will pay a substantial price for his courage however, as he will now be subjected to massive opposition from the huge, mega slaughter plants (the top 4 kill 88% of our feedlot cattle), and alienation from USDA, which has its tentacles in a variety of federal programs in MT.

Currently, when E.coli is detected at downstream further processing plants, retail meat markets (Safeway, Costco, etc), at restaurants or cafeterias (such as hospitals and schools), USDA’s official response is to blame the downstream destination facility that it has ongoing sanitation problems, while adroitly avoiding tracing back to the noncompliant slaughter facility where corrective actions are direly needed.  We should not be the least suprised by all these ongoing outbreaks and recurring recalls. 

On March 10, USDA hosted for the first time a public hearing in DC to discuss Tracebacks, and invited the public to provide ideas on how USDA could improve its traceback protocol.  One person who testified was Scott Goltry, a VP for Food Safety and Inspection Services at AMI (American Meat Institute), which represents the Big packers.  One of his statements was “AMI is unaware if a change to the trace back follow up sample procedure would have a significant improvement to public health”.  Indeed!  AMI is more concerned with their Big packer members being held accountable for meat which is contaminated on their members’ kill floors.  As such, AMI is allowing corporate profits to trump public health.  I also provided testimony, and can give you a copy if you are interested. 

Anyway, if you agree that Tracebacks to the origin make sense, please let Senator Tester know it.  His Ag staffer in DC is Nathan Taylor, 202-224-3015, Nathan_Taylor@tester.senate.gov   Senator Tester is about to experience the full wrath from the Big packer machinery and lobbyists, and he needs to know that people support him on this issue which not only impacts public health, but also protects the right of legitimate, small businesses to stay in business absent unethical actions by unaccountable government bureaucrats. 

Enjoy the reading. 

 John Munsell

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MARCH 24, 2010

Legislation will trace meat to address food-borne illness

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester today introduced his Meat Safety and Accountability Act to significantly improve the ability to trace the original source of contaminated meat.

Currently, contaminated meat products are only traced back to the packing plant or butcher shop they came from.  But dangerous food contamination often begins earlier in the supply chain—at the slaughterhouse, where meat sometimes comes into contact with animal hides or manure.

Tester’s legislation simply requires the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service to design and implement – using its existing budget – an initiative to trace tainted meat back to the original source of contamination.  The bill also improves testing at meat suppliers and individual meat processors in the case of an outbreak.

Tester said his legislation is designed to hold “the right people accountable when something goes wrong,” such as potentially life-threatening outbreaks of E. coli or salmonella contamination.

“This bill puts more common sense and fairness into the equation as our food travels through the supply chain to the kitchen table,” Tester said.  “This bill will make our food safer to eat by ramping up accountability.  And it will help small meat processors in rural America that too often get blamed for contamination that didn’t begin with them.”

Tester wrote the bill after working closely with Miles City’s John Munsell, a former meat plant owner.

“As long as the Department of Agriculture resists tracing back to the slaughterhouse of origin, American consumers are guaranteed to experience ongoing outbreaks and recurring recalls,” said Munsell, now the manager of the Foundation for Accountability in Regulatory Enforcement.  “Senator Tester is to be commended for his willingness to challenge the USDA on this public health issue.”

Tester’s Meat Safety and Accountability Act will now go to the Senate Agriculture Committee.  Text of the legislation is available online HERE.

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Contact:         Aaron Murphy (406) 252-0291 or Andrea Helling (202) 228-0371