Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer: "My customers are the children of this country."

Do we finally have a Secretary of Agriculture who "gets it"?

Secretary Schafer addressed a board meeting of the National Meat Association on February 22nd, just five days after USDA announced the recall by Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company of 143 million pounds of meat and the suspension of USDA contracts with the company. Some of his comments to this group of meat industry leaders would have been well received by a consumers' food safety advocacy group. Here are a few excerpts from the transcript of his speech:

"But something happened here that wasn't right, and we need to get to the bottom of it."

"My focus I guess or my motto throughout my time in public service is boiled down to something that's pretty simple: Do the right thing."

"And you can count on that from me and USDA today that we will do the right thing here, now and in the future as we go forward."

"To other nations, this event raises a concern about the safety of our food processing system and the fact that we can provide a reason for them to keep our markets closed for U.S. products in the trade agreements. The only way that we can ally that concern is a thorough and credible investigation to promptly take any corrective actions that are called for, and we will do so."

"(I)n 1862 when President Lincoln formed the USDA he called it the People's Department . . . because he said it touches so many people in so many different ways."

"And I'm reminded today that what (sic) I believe: My customers are are the children of this country."
These are laudable sentiments, coming from the head of a government department that has a history of putting industry ahead of consumers. Let's hope that USDA actions match Secretary Schafer's words.


  1. I hope he gets it. USDA is no how, no way the "people's dept". If it is anything it is the strange bedfellow of industrialized agriculture. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) said it best, "Food safety ought to be of a high enough priority in this nation that we have a single agency that deals with it and not an agency that is responsible for promoting a product, selling a product and then as an afterthought dealing with how our food supply is safe...,"

    She is right. USDA spends so much time and energy worrying about global marketing, when the US is a net importer, they are spitting in the collective eye of small/private farmers, homesteaders and hobbyists. Just look at the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). Incidents like Hallmark/Westland prove that no amount of tracking is going to stop problems.


  2. I have been a supporter of the concept of a single, independent federal food safety agency since the 1970s when I worked for Health Protection Branch (then Canada's equivalent to the FDA). I supervised the Quebec Region microbiology group.

    I remember the excitement that rippled through our agency when it was rumored that the Prime Minister (Pierre Trudeau) would be announcing the consolidation of food safety regulation into a single agency. Alas, the project was torpedoed by the Minister for Agriculture, a powerful political figure at the time.

    Some 25 years later, Canada finally got its unified agency - the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Unfortunately, the agency was fleshed out on the skeleton of Agriculture Canada's regulatory structure, instead of the Health Protection Branch.

    A single agency isn't going to change anything, if the political will is lacking to structure it sensibly and fund it fully. NAIS is useless, if it isn't mandatory. HACCP is a useful concept, but is just a food safety management tool – not a regulatory panacaea.

    Hmmm, I think there are about 3 or 4 more blog topics buried in the above.

  3. Excuse me, but to the alst comment, NAIS is useless if it isn't mandatory, I beg to differ. NAIS is useless altogether. Go to the Liberty Ark website or to the Farm and Ranchers Freedom Association website to get updated on why NAIS destroys small farmers, homesteaders, and family farm hobbyists with it's onerous regulations which do not protect food safety. NAIS stops at the food processors door and most contamination issues take place once the animal is slaughtered. NAIS punishes the small farmers but does nothing to regulate the large USDA abbatoirs where the real contamination occurs.


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