Cattlemen Point to US Submitting to International Standards as Weak Link in Food Safety

Thornsberry Ranch Cattle on Pasture

Thornsberry Ranch Cattle on Pasture

GATT, WTO, HCAPP, NAIS, CODEX Cited by Ranchers

by Max Thornsberry, President of the Board of Directors, R-CALF

part 2 0f 3

click here to start with part 1

2.    Sound U.S. Food Safety Standards were Weakened When Congress Acquiesced to International Standards that Prohibit It From Targeting Food Safety Problems Originating in Foreign Countries with Stricter Standards – Unless Congress First Applies Such Stricter Standards to the Entire U.S., Regardless of Whether Such Stricter Standards Are Even Applicable to the U.S. Food Production System.

Rather than to first determine and address the precise sources of food contamination through a scientific risk and hazard analysis of the various sources of food available in the U.S., i.e., raw food grown by independent U.S. farming operations, raw food grown by industrialized, corporate farming operations, processed food from independent U.S. food processing operations, processed food from industrialized, corporate food processing operations, and raw and processed food from importing countries, Congress, beginning in the mid-1990s, already has uncritically accepted and adhered to international food safety standards that have severely restricted Congress’ ability to effectively address U.S.-specific food safety problems at their source.  For example:

The United States can no longer require foreign countries wishing to export meat and poultry products to have meat and poultry inspections that are ‘at least equal’ to those of the United States; instead, foreign inspection systems must be [only] ‘equivalent to’ domestic inspection systems.

FSIS, acting as a regulatory agency of the United States, may not impose import requirements on inspection systems or establishments in an exporting country that are more stringent than those applied domestically.

These self-inflicted limitations are the direct result of Congress’ unwitting passage of the Uruguay Round Agreement Act of 1994, which was drafted for the purpose of bringing the U.S. into compliance with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT),  and which subsequently led to the United States’ entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO).  These limitations also are the result of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) unwitting attempt to harmonize once sound safety standards with the agency’s perceived obligations under the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement).   The effect was clear – Congress lowered our essential safety standards to allow higher-risk imports into the United States.

As a result, the United States is currently unable to limit imports from countries that – using similar types of industrial food production and processing units that are creating problems in the U.S. – practice even more unsound and unsafe food production measures than those used here.

Congress has effectively stripped itself: 1) of its needed authority to protect the U.S. food supply from food imported from countries known to practice inadequate food safety measures; 2) from being able to increase inspection of foreign processing plants; and, 3) from being able to otherwise strengthen import inspection measures to more thoroughly evaluate the safety of imported foods.

An annual inspection of foreign processing plants – which now emphasizes the adequacy of the plant’s written Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan to declare it “equivalent to” the U.S. system – provides no assurance that the plant is meeting food safety standards 365 days each year or that food entering the U.S. is safe. The House Act perpetuates this failed approach to food safety. It imposes additional burdens on the independent farmer and rancher while protecting the use of unsound practices by the industrial production units in the United States and globally.

Unless Congress first reclaims its sovereign right to protect U.S. citizens from unsafe food, Congress’ only recourse for ensuring the safety of imported product, as is clearly evidence in the House Act, is to encumber the entire U.S. food production system with a regulatory regime designed to address food safety problems in foreign countries with highest-risk food, e.g., food from countries that lack an adequate veterinary and food inspection infrastructure and those that may still use chemicals and antibiotics banned in the United States.

This internationally established, universal approach to food safety totally ignores proven domestic food production practices and is patently unfair to U.S. food producers. It also represents a colossal waste of government resources including taxpayer dollars. Treating the entire U.S. food industry as if it were the lowest common denominator in the food safety equation in order to prevent the introduction of tainted food from importing countries is unthinkable – but that is exactly the premise that underpins the House Act.

A clear example of how the House Act treats U.S. farmers as if they are the lowest common denominator in the food safety equation is its directive to impose upon them the international concept of food traceability. However, even the principles for traceability established by the international Codex Alimentarius state:

An importing country should consider that a food inspection and certification system without a traceability/product tracing tool may meet the same objective and produce the same outcomes (e.g. regarding food safety, provide the same level of protection) as a food inspection and certification system with traceability/product tracing.

It is unconscionable that Congress would choose to encumber U.S. farmers with a traceability regime recognized globally as nonessential in countries where other, less obtrusive but equally or more effective means of achieving food safety is practiced. Has Congress lost so much faith in its own ability to restore our nation’s once exemplary food safety system that it is now resorting to penalizing farmers and ranchers with a nonessential and onerous traceability system?

Tracing contaminated food to its source will never be as effective as preventing food contamination. While there is an exemption for our segment of the industry at the outset under the House Act, once such an encumbrance is forced upon one segment of agriculture it would likely be applied to all segments of production agriculture in short order. The panacea over tracing food from the farm or ranch will give the public a false sense of security while doing nothing to prevent tainted food from entering our nation’s food system.

The traceability requirements imposed on fruit, vegetable, nut and fungus farmers by the House Act are nearly identical to the requirements proposed in USDA’s National Animal Identification System (NAIS), which have been vehemently opposed by the nation’s producing farmers and ranchers for several years. R-CALF USA views the implementation of traceability requirements on U.S. farmers and ranchers as completely unacceptable.  R-CALF USA supports the tracing of contaminated food products from the affected consumer to the processing facility where the contamination has most likely occurred.

Congress must understand that international standards, such as those unnamed but nevertheless referenced in the House Act, do not emphasize food safety. The stated goal of the WTO – the international organization that administers the international agreements that deal with food safety and animal and plant health and safety – is to “help producers of goods and services, exporters, and importers conduct their business, while allowing governments to meet social and environmental objectives.”

Thus, it is the WTO’s objective to facilitate the importation of food into the U.S., which is the world’s largest consuming economy. The U.S. Congress and the 50 states are the only government organizations vested with the responsibility and authority to protect U.S. food and the U.S. food supply, and this responsibility and authority should not be delegated to any international governmental body or organization. Congress must not abrogate its and our states’ exclusive responsibility and authority to protect our nation’s food and food security to international governmental organizations as the House Act has accomplished by demanding and/or encouraging compliance and consistency with international standards.

Congress must not adopt international standards in its attempt to mitigate the very food safety problems that are the result of Congress’ previous acquiesce to international standards. Such action would do nothing to improve food safety, but would result in a direct loss of individual, state, and federal sovereignty. Instead, Congress must restore our previously relaxed food safety standards and insist that all food entering the U.S. meet or exceed U.S. health and safety standards.

3.    Congress’ Adoption of the Internationally-touted HACCP Food Safety Inspection System Severely Hampers Congress’ Ability to Ensure that Even Existing Food Safety Requirements Are Properly Followed Either Here or Abroad.

Rather than to authorize and empower state and federal food safety officials to directly inspect, monitor and enforce existing safe-food processing standards in the U.S., beginning in the mid-1990s Congress uncritically adopted a radical, hands-off approach to food safety inspection and enforcement by implementing the internationally recommended Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system. The HACCP approach replaced direct state and federal inspection, oversight and enforcement with essentially an honor system that presumes food safety practices are consistent with a company’s written intentions to practice safe-food procedures.

This system, as evidenced by massive meat recalls originating in meatpacking plants presumed compliant with HACCP safety standards, has unequivocally failed to meet Congress’ objective of ensuring safe food processing, packing and manufacturing. Continued reliance on the experimental HACCP system, which is now proven to produce fatal food, would be irresponsible and self-defeating for any food safety reform effort.

Continue to part 3

Max Thornsberry, D.V.M., is R-CALF USA’s President of the Board of Directors and Region VI Director. Dr. Thornsberry and his wife Brenda reside in Richland, Mo. Thornsberry is the owner and manager of TNT Cattle Co., a certified feeder calf preconditioning enterprise, as well as Avanco Feeds, a veterinary and nutrition firm that serves beef, dairy, swine and companion animal owners in central Missouri.

Thornsberry has a B.S. in Agriculture and a minor in Chemistry from the University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture. In 1977, Thornsberry received his D.V.M. from University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine. In 1992, Thornsberry acquired his M.B.A. at California Coast University in Santa Ana, Calif.
Thornsberry is a past president of both the Missouri Stockgrower’s Association and the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association. He also is a current member of the Academy of Veterinary Consultants and the American Veterinary Medical Association, among other organizations throughout the country.
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R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle industry. R-CALF USA represents thousands of U.S. cattle producers on trade and marketing issues. Members are located across 47 states and are primarily cow/calf operators, cattle backgrounders, and/or feedlot owners. R-CALF USA directors and committee chairs are extremely active unpaid volunteers. R-CALF USA has dozens of affiliate organizations and various main-street businesses are associate members. For more information, visit www.r-calfusa.com or, call 406-252-2516.

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