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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release July 6, 1996
                           PRESS BRIEFING
                            SALLY KATZEN

The Briefing Room

10:50 A.M. EDT

MR. HAAS: Good morning, everyone. I'm Larry Haas, the Communications Director from OMB. You're going to hear today from Secretary Dan Glickman of the Agriculture Department, from Sally Katzen, who is the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at OMB, and obviously they'll be briefing on the details of the President's Radio Address. They will each have short introductory remarks, then we would be happy to take any questions that you have.

We also have senior officials from the Agriculture Department who are instrumental in the development of the regulations that we'll be talking about today. So without any further ado, Secretary Glickman.

SECRETARY GLICKMAN: Okay, thanks, Larry. Good morning. First of all, I want to recognize the folks who are here with me from USDA -- Deputy Secretary Rich Rominger, Mike Taylor and Tom Billy, number one and two at our food safety effort, and they're the ones that largely led this effort. And Eric Olson from my staff, who has been a very key person in getting this done.

Let me just make a couple of quick comments, then I'm going to turn it over to Sally. Our job at USDA is to ensure the safest meat and poultry, and basically this is to ensure the safest food supply, but meat and poultry is within our jurisdiction.

We believe that meat and poultry in this country is fundamentally safe; I want to make that clear. But we think that we can modernize the system and make it much safer, and that's what we're trying to do with this new rule.

Now, this new rule has four pieces to it, and we will be publishing the final rule next week, and I thought I would run through what the new pieces of the new rule -- the main part of it is called HACCP, I'm going to say it one time, and then I will use the word "new food safety rule" as the synonym for it. It's "hazard analysis critical control point" -- HACCP. But, basically, the HACCP rule is the main part of the rule, then we have E. coli testing, salmonella standards and sanitation operating plans.

First, with respect to HACCP, the HACCP concept is simple: Plants must identify the significant hazards that might affect its products. As meat or poultry go through a system, the plant must analyze at various points where contamination should occur, and then what they will do to deal with that. Then, once they identify those hazards, this plant is to design and implement controls to prevent those hazards from occurring, and they monitor the HACCP system, the new food safety system, to make sure that these critical control point are working.

The second part of it is E. coli testing, and this is something that we feel very strongly about. E. coli testing is a good example of going to a science-based system. All slaughter plants will be required to implement microbiological testing for generic E. coli to verify that they were effectively controlling contamination. The E. coli testing is a good way to calibrate, to verify if there are problems with the meat and poultry system that are going through the plant, so we will be requiring that. I might add that many, if not most plants are already doing the testing, anyway, but we will be requiring it on a more formal basis.

The third thing has to do with the salmonella performance standard. We are requiring that plants reduce the amount of meat and poultry that is contaminated with salmonella. Now, we know that industry can perform in this regard, they are performing. Many, if not much of the industry is, in fact, working to reduce salmonella, and we believe that they can reduce it further and they have the technical capabilities to do it. So we will be establishing a salmonella performance standard that plants must meet, and this is the first time that USDA has established a regulatory standard for pathogen reduction on raw meat and poultry. And the whole idea is to reduce pathogens in meat and poultry supply. We believe that most, if not all, plants can in fact meet the accountability standards that we're putting in these rules.

And, finally, we have sanitation standard operating procedures. Good sanitation is the cornerstone of safe food production. These sanitation operating procedures will improve plant performance and is a good first step to implement the other things that we're talking about.

Now, let me just make the following in kind of conclusion. We've had a lot of help, a lot of debate on these issues. This administration, early in its term, determined to go forward with these new standards, moving, as the President said, from a seeing, smelling, touching, feeling meat and poultry inspection standard to one that's based largely on science and testing to deal with that; so we've had consumer groups, industry representatives, ag producers, scientists and members of Congress, both political parties working together.

And I think that what we've come up with, and part of this was done through a series of forums that we held last year, was to get people of different perspectives, different points of view, to come with us, to come up with rules that were reasonable, but effective, sensible but tough, and that's what we've done here and we think that, largely -- largely, we believe that industry will be able to comply with these rules and will support the rules, because they will give them the predictability that they need to get these things done.

So the whole point in all of this is to ensure that American families have the safest meat and poultry system possible. The President strongly believes, and USDA has been committed to being personally involved in and committed to putting this pathogen reduction rule-making into effect, and I think that in doing so, we will make meat and poultry safer and we will give the American people the confidence they need to know that their food is clean and safe. And in doing so, I think we will build the kind of public confidence in our food supply that we have in this country that so many other countries in the world do not have.

So I thank you, and I might point out that in your press packets, there are a lot of specifics involved with how the parts will operate, timetables, these kinds of things -- you might want to look through those. Mike Taylor and Tom Billy may be able to answer specific questions for you. I don't know if they have the press packets. People are looking at me like -- you will have them.

But I'd like to introduce Sally for a moment, and then I will answer questions afterwards.

ADMINISTRATOR KATZEN: Thanks, Dan. I just want to underscore three points that Secretary Glickman made. The first is that food safety is an important commitment of this President and this Vice President, and from the very beginning of the administration we've taken steps to begin and to enhance food safety.

Last winter the Food and Drug Administration, part of HHS, put out similar food safety rules with respect to seafood. We now have USDA moving forward on meat and poultry, and we're going to continue to evaluate, continue to explore, continue to ensure that we're doing a science-based, realistic way of enhancing food safety.

Second, we've looked very carefully at what USDA has proposed and are confident that this is fully consistent with the guiding principles that we have been using in regulatory reform in this administration. It's consistent with the Vice President's Reinventing Government guiding principles; namely, the government is not seeking here to micromanage each plant and slaughterhouse in this country. It is not, as the President said, giving you dos and don'ts, command and control, is saying what is expected and placing that responsibility squarely on the industry, squarely on the regulated entities.

And along with responsibility goes verification; that's the testing that the Secretary referred to. So this combination of responsibility plus verification is precisely the kinds of principles that we have used for our Reinventing Government and our regulatory reform.

Finally, I want to underscore the point that Americans, as a result of these steps, will be ensured of having the safest food supply that is possible, doing what is necessary with a continuing commitment to ensure that.

Thank you. Why don't we take some questions. Dan?

Q This is all self-policing, isn't it? You don't have to go through Congress for any of this? But where are teeth in this? And if you're letting them all rely on themselves, why haven't they been doing it for 90 years?

SECRETARY GLICKMAN: No, no, no. First of all, they must -- first of all, we have inspectors, thousands of inspectors out there in plants right now that see, feel, touch and smell to make sure that meat is safe. They have to meet safety and sanitation requirements now; those continue. They actually become stronger because they become science-based.

So, here's what a plant has to do: One is, it has to test for certain things -- E. coli, salmonella. There are standards for salmonella. None of that is required now. The plants also have to set up what's called "critical control point pathogen reduction programs," which means as the meat and poultry flow into a plant from live animals to basically fabricated product, then at each point where that meat and poultry goes through where there is a potential problem of contamination or other kinds of problems, then it has to take steps to stop the contamination.

So what we have here is, is that we have a modernization of the current system that finally will provide some validity to the whole issue is: Are there germs -- and germs is a very nonscientific way of saying it -- but are there pathogens, are there the kinds of things in the meat and poultry supply that could cause people to get very sick? So, in fact, this is a major, major augmentation of public safety by the government.

Q Who will judge plans that these industries propose? Who will judge whether this plan by this industry is going to work, and who will monitor it to make sure that the industry follows --

SECRETARY GLICKMAN: We have a Food Safety and Inspection Service, headed by this gentleman there, Mr. Taylor, and in a sense, they will work with each individual plant to make sure that they're in compliance.

Now, these plans do not require the kind of micromanaging in terms of how cool you keep your meat or how warm you keep your meat, or a lot of that kind of thing, which we are getting out of in terms of command and control. But it does require a cooperative effort between the Food Safety and Inspection Service and the plants with regulatory authority to make sure that they do what they are required to do.

ADMINISTRATOR KATZEN: That's an important point on here is that the companies will be responsible for designing the plans; they will not have preapproval by the Department of Agriculture, but they will be reviewed by the Department of Agriculture. As the inspectors in the plant are working with the plans, they will be focusing on the points that have been establishing in the plans.

In addition, the testing, the salmonella testing by the Department of Agriculture and the E. coli testing by the plants is a verification of whether the plans are working. And if, for example, you are not at or below the baseline on salmonella, then there will be a requirement to go back and review your plan and correct those areas that will make it produce meat. So there are teeth, there are enforcement, but it's being done in a cooperative way in which we are always the stopgap, backstop on it.

Q Who makes sure that the testing of these pathogens are legit?

ADMINISTRATOR KATZEN: Well, some of the testing, the salmonella testing is being done by USDA, and the E. coli testing will be subject to protocols that is being established by USDA. There are, again, inspectors in the plants, and instead of looking, touching, smelling, they'll be supervising, reviewing, monitoring and looking at these kinds of things.

Q One other point. There is something here that seems to pull in both directions. I'm particularly thinking of the sanitation standards. I haven't had the chance to go through the material, but could you please explain -- the sanitation standards does sort of sound like micromanagement, whereas the other stuff says we're results-oriented, can you police yourself. How do those two things fit together?

ADMINISTRATOR KATZEN: On the sanitation, this is in part a culture change rather than micromanagement, because now there are a series of rules of what has to be done in the sanitation area. What this says to the companies, to the slaughterhouses, to the packaging plants, is, do you identify those aspects of the sanitation rules that you believe have something to do with potential contamination, and identify who is responsible in the plants for supervising, monitoring and controlling those aspects.

Right now, it's the inspector who says, oh, that blade isn't very clean. Now it's going to be someone in the plant that's responsible, with the inspector spot-checking, looking around, checking out. So it's not micromanaging because we're not saying, here's what you put in your plan, we're saying you identify those things that go to contamination and identify who in the plant will be responsible.

SECRETARY GLICKMAN: I would say this, and I'd like Mr. Taylor to talk about this. We're moving to a different kind of a system that, again, is much more science-based, much more accountable. But the idea here is to get the plants ready by ensuring that they have a sanitation operating procedure that basically says this is going to be a clean plant. We're going to make sure that the general atmosphere is clean. We're not going to micromanage what the door is going to look like or what the bathroom is going to look like, but we are going to say that they at least have to have a plan in place that provides for the kind of sanitation necessary, then to move on to the next steps, which is a hazard analysis system and the kinds of testing that's going to take place.

I'd like Mike to comment on that.

ADMINISTRATOR TAYLOR: I'm Mike Taylor, I'm the Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service. This new system is anything but self-policing, and you've heard the term "responsibility" used a great deal. An essential problem of the current system is that the lines of responsibility are blurred and we haven't defined clearly, for example, the establishments, the slaughter plant's responsibility for reducing harmful bacteria. And in sanitation, we haven't defined clearly enough the plant's responsibility to have a careful preventive system for keeping the plant clean.

And as a result, sometimes the plant's relied too much on the government inspector. We should be enforcers, we should be overseers in a position just to see to it that the companies carry out their very clearly defined responsibility to produce safe food. They're the only ones that can make the food safe; they should have a clearly defined responsibility to do that. And our role as the regulatory oversight agency is to see that happens.

We are in these plants every day. The issue is, do we give our inspectors the scientific tools and the regulatory tools to more effectively ensure that the companies are producing safe food -- and that's what SOP, sanitation standard operating procedures is about, that's what the whole new HACCP system is about, and that's what these new standards for bacteria will enable us to do.

Q Is this going to take more money to provide this new scientific testing?

MR. TAYLOR: The cost analysis we have done shows that the costs of implementation are about a tenth of a cent per pound of product produced. We have done a careful cost-benefit analysis, and the annual implementation cost for the whole industry are in the range of $100 million a year. The benefits are in the $1 billion to $4 billion range. So the benefits substantially outweigh the costs and the costs are very minimal on a per-pound basis.

Q Will it cost the government any more?

MR. TAYLOR: Our strategy for improving the system is to take the resources we've got, recognizing that we're not going to get more money to do this job, and make better use of those resources. So we will be redeploying our resources, empowering our inspectors to do more with the time and energy they have got with these scientific tools. So we will be redeploying resources, not asking for more.

Q Mr. Secretary, you have got 6,000, 8,000 watching chickens whizzing by, you know, and grabbing organs of cattle. Are these people competent to do these scientific things, or do you have a massive retraining program ahead of you?

SECRETARY GLICKMAN: I'm not competent to talk about grabbing organs for cattle, so I'm going to ask our man here to comment.

MR. TAYLOR: Well, over the next, you know, year or so and more, we will be investing heavily in training our employees, and they are very competent to do this. There is training needed to do new tasks, but we believe our work force can be redeployed and upgraded to do this job.

Q When we look back at the cost to the producer, the cost to the packing house, the cost to the consumer, and is there some trace-back. If there is a problem, if something comes up with the pathogens, is there a trace-back mechanism?

MR. TAYLOR: Trace back to where?

Q Trace back to the farm? If you have an E. coli breakout, can you trace that meat back under this program?

MR. TAYLOR: Currently we don't have the statutory authority to require the kind of record-keeping that would permit that. The administration introduced legislation a couple of years ago seeking that. I think it can be a useful tool, but currently we rely on existing industry records. We cooperate with state authorities and, when necessary, we conduct those trace-back investigations. But it's difficult.

Q And when you look at the cost, the cost to the producers, the cost to the packing house, the cost to the consumers, who is paying for all this?

SECRETARY GLICKMAN: Well, I must tell you, in my judgment, not going this road will be extremely costly to everybody, because the public confidence in the safety of the meat and poultry supply will be affected by systems that does not go to a science-based system.

And I want to repeat perhaps an unrelated point. When the BSE problem hit in England, the consumption of meat in Germany, a country that was unaffected by BSE, dropped 50 percent within two months -- five-zero, half. They stopped eating half their meat. And what we have to understand is that by increasing the public confidence that the system is testing for the things that need to be tested, the public's desire to buy meat and poultry will be significantly augmented, not reduced.

So we don't -- we basically see this as a positive for people in the packing industry, as well as farmers and ranchers in this country.

Q How does the industry really feel about it? I mean, are they -- is the industry happy about this?

SECRETARY GLICKMAN: I would -- first of all, they have been working with us the whole time. Some members of the industry are currently doing what these rules require, the HACCP rule and the testing. They tend to be some of the larger enterprises in the country. But I would say, by and large the industry and us have wanted to achieve the same result. On occasion there have been differences of perspective as to what kind of rules there ought to be. And we have made decisions based upon a lot of sessions that we have had with them, for example, not to engage in micro-managing.

And so I think by and large the industry will be cooperative. That is not to say that they like everything that is in our rules.

ADMINISTRATOR KATZEN: The only thing I wanted to add in response to the earlier question about tracing back is that there are a number of steps along the line. We have to start somewhere. And just as FDA started with seafood in the plants, USDA is starting here. But this administration is committed to a very broad view, looking at all of the places from the farm to the table, and seeing what can be done. We believe that the steps that are being taken now are very significant because this is where a lot of the problems that could exist could be controlled.

But we're not saying that this is the end of it. This is actually the beginning, a serious -- very serious -- first step to be followed by conferences on the specifics of this rule and workshops on broader questions such as you were referring to. And I think you need to put it in the context, which is why I was trying to stress the importance, the commitment, to food safety generally of the administration, of looking in a broader way.

MR. HAAS: A couple more.

Q Mr. Secretary, other than having the plants be responsible for identifying the hazards as you said, E. coli testing, many if not most are already doing that.

SECRETARY GLICKMAN: A lot are, but a lot -- some aren't, okay.

Q Well, I was going to say, I presume that the salmonella is also being done -- tested by a lot of people.

SECRETARY GLICKMAN: I don't think that presumption is necessarily an accurate one. Some are doing salmonella testing, but I don't think it's an industry-wide situation, and plus, we're settings some standards that they have to meet. That is not in the current rules. That is, if they go about certain standards, they hit some regulatory thresholds, then they better take action or else they could have an enforcement action on their back.

Q Or else what?

SECRETARY GLICKMAN: Well, an enforcement action, which we have the authority to do. And perhaps you could talk -- all the way from penalties to closing a plant down.

MR. TAYLOR: The salmonella standards represent well of a major shift here, which is for the first time in history there will be a legal responsibility for slaughter establishments to reduce harmful bacteria that will be enforced by USDA inspectors in the plant every day. And if, upon testing, an opportunity to correct the problem, the slaughter plant does not meet the standard, the plant will not be allowed to operate.

Q How many were closed last year because of violations that are currently -- violations of rules that currently exist?

MR. TAYLOR: I didn't hear the first part.

Q How many plants did you close last year, or even this year, because of violations of the current rules.

MR. TAYLOR: I can -- we can give you the numbers. We take actions every day in plants short of completely closing the plant, to slow production lines, to temporarily stop to take corrective action. That goes on every day in establishments all over the country. To actually formally and permanently close down a plant is a last resort, and we take those actions on a regular basis, so we can supply you the number.

Q And when do these rules take effect?

ADMINISTRATOR KATZEN: Let me just underscore on this last point what Mike was saying in that our objective is to get compliance and to get safer meat, not to close down factories or slaughterhouses and plants. And so part of our approach here is to work with the industry to improve their product. And there are actions that will be taken if it's not forthcoming, but our emphasis has been both on setting out clear guidelines of what is expected, providing compliance assistance, particularly for small businesses, in terms of helping to construct their plans and helping to modernize their operations and reviewing.

And our objective -- as I said, if you do not meet the salmonella test, the performance test, the first step is to go back and look at your plan. Where did it let you down? How can we help you modify it so that you will not be exceeding the limits? That's looking for compliance not for violations.

It's very easy to find violations. We're looking for compliance. And so in that sense, actions can be taken but it is the last resort. It's when nothing else can be done, and that's a sorry state. We want to work on the positive side.

SECRETARY GLICKMAN: And let me say something -- just something else. Sounds like, one more thing, one more thing, one more thing.


SECRETARY GLICKMAN: The question of certainty. Right now, there is not a lot of certainty in the process. You have inspectors out there that, as I say, are seeing, touching, feeling, smelling. It's the old, you know it when you see it type of way of regulating, which has worked pretty well, to be honest with you, largely because the plants do a good job and because Mike Taylor's shop is out there doing an effective job of enforcing.

But the industry yearns for some predictability, particularly in an era where you have a lot of problems that come about, in terms of salmonella and E. coli and other kinds of things, where they're trying to build confidence in the public that the system works well. And what this system will do is, for the first time it will provide some greater regulatory and scientific certainty than we have had before. Before it has been basically, as I said, a physical, hands-on approach to figuring out if the system is working well. Now you add the additional component of testing.

And as Sally said, this is something that we're not going to -- we're not inflexible about. If you read the material here, we're going to continue to have the kind of forums with scientists and the private sector and the industry and consumer groups to improve on the current system, to improve on the standards, which we know will be needed.

Q Why did you remove your -- the standards for keeping meat carcasses at low temperatures from the proposal? Isn't that an important standard?

MR. TAYLOR: What we have done -- we have proposed to establish certain temperatures for carcasses leaving establishments. This is an important issue to prevent growth of bacteria. What we have recognized is that we need to have standards not only for when the carcasses leave the establishments but during transportation and storage. So we're extending the rule-making process. We're going to gather additional data, and we are going to establish cooling standards that will control throughout the process that will be much more effective than what we have proposed. But we need additional public comment and data to do that. We expect to be proceeding with that shortly.

Q When do the final rules actually go in place?

MR. TAYLOR: Well, the rules we publish in the Federal Register next week, and we begin our salmonella testing in September. And then shortly, within six months, the companies will be required to begin the E. coli testing, the sanitation SOPs, and then HACCP will phased in after that.

ADMINISTRATOR KATZEN: On that particular issue, one of things that we have been very gratified at, and it also goes to the question of where is industry on this, is they have been waiting eagerly for these. And with the publication this week, a number of the companies will start immediately to begin taking the steps to draft their SOPs for sanitation, to think through the HACCP plans, to prepare for the testing. So we expect that a lot of the industry will move forward very, very rapidly, very short term, to be able to carry out these objectives.

MR. HAAS: Last question over here, and some of our officials, obviously, will hang around for more off camera. But last question.

Q Do these changes mean that you will no longer look and touch and smell? Or are these in addition to?

SECRETARY GLICKMAN: We will continue to --

Q Is a strong smell ignored?

SECRETARY GLICKMAN: Okay. We will continue to look, smell, feel, and touch, because the human factor cannot be ignored from the inspection process. But it will be augmented by the science standards and made more realistic and practical and efficient. And I think, Mike, you may want to comment on that as well.

MR. TAYLOR: That current system achieves a lot of things of value to consumers: clean carcasses, eliminating diseased animals from the food supply. That's why the system was put in place. And we will absolutely remain faithful to those traditional objectives and achievements. The question, as the Secretary said, is how can we use the scientific that we have got to make it safer. That's what this is about. It's not retreating on any of traditional protections.

MR. HAAS: Thank you, folks.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 11:18 A.M. EDT