of the nation's food supply have led government officials to speak about food safety and food security enforcement in the same breath.
As senior officials of the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Homeland Security enumerated actions that have been taken and should be taken to protect the safety of America's food supply, both spokesmen also emphasized that the key to ensuring the safety of the nation's food supply lies in a cooperative partnership of
the Federal government, food industry, state and local health agencies and academia.
"When we talk about food safety and security, it's important to point out that they are integrated goals. It all begins with a core of sound science, disciplines of microbiology, chemistry, toxicology that are essential to having a safe food supply, upon which food safety programs such as HACCP, Good Manufacturing Practices, Good Agricultural Practices are built," Robert E. Brackett, director, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food and Drug Administration, said in his presentation at the Food Safety Summit last week here at the Convention Center.
Turning to the likelihood of a terrorist attack, Brackett continued: "In the era of intentional contamination by thinking aggressors, we have to add food security or food
defense enhancements, like looking at your employees, taking care which parts of your plants might be easily accessible, which foods should we need to worry about."
Alertness, he added, relies on a good food safety program as a foundation, which also relies on a good, sound science.
Undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security Asa Hutchinson of the Department of Homeland Security, in his address, said a terrorist attack on the nation's
agricultural and food systems would have a devastating ripple effect on everyone from the grower to the consumer. Accentuating "joint responsibilities" in protecting the food supply, Hutchinson noted that the government and private sector must not only contend with the historical threat of accidental contamination of food "but we now must consider the very real threat of intentional contamination of our food supply or a direct attack against our agricultural sector."
"Whether we approach it from safety or security perspectives, the goal is the same: the continued health and safety of our people, the protection of our economy, and maintaining positive trade relations with our foreign neighbors," Hutchinson said.
Brackett, speaking after his speech with ID Access, concurred that food safety concerns are more commonplace, however, he continued, they are intricately linked with food security. "So what looks to be a common food-borne outbreak could be, in fact, the start of something that was intentional so we take all of it seriously," he said.
As for imported products and the case of green onion contamination of last November, Brackett said the government is using additional border resources and technology to identify those food products that are more vulnerable to accidental or premeditated contamination.
"We expect imported produce or other foods that come from other countries to meet the same standards that we meet in the United States. In the event that we believe that
anything coming from abroad does not meet those standards, we have the authority to detain them at the border and to prevent them from coming into the country. With regard
to inspections, we are using a strategic approach to looking at those sorts of foods that may represent the highest risk to public health and focusing more inspection efforts on those foods as opposed to ones that have a greater history of safety," he said.
Brackett indicated that the administration has budgeted an additional $65 million to boost FDA's food security and defense activities, which brings the total food security budget to $181 million. The FDA and other government agencies will be developing new technologies to improve security surveillance. The security system, Brackett said, will be based on identification and measurement standards so that outcomes are recorded and adhered to.
Defending the national agricultural and food systems from terrorist attack has become a national policy with the issuance of Homeland Security Presidential Directive No. 9. "Today's regulatory environment is security focused. It is important to remember the interrelationship between food safety and food security and always to keep the public health mission in mind and that is to reduce food-borne hazards to the greatest extent possible," Brackett said.