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If There Was an USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety, This is What They Should Be Doing

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As noted in yesterday's USA Today article, "Pressure's on for Obama to fill 'food czar' job at USDA." The position of Under Secretary for food safety has been has been vacant since October 2008.

Yes, I applied for the position, but did not get a call back. My guess -- I'm not a favorite of the industry. In any event, I would hope that whomever gets the job, or if Mike Taylor is going to run it out of FDA, they/he/she would pay attention to a few of my ideas.

Here are my "Marler's Baker's Dozen:"

1. Tattoo on a body part that you use everyday FSIS's Mission Statement:

The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is the public health agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture responsible for ensuring that the nation's commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged.

2. Push for tax credits for workable food safety innovations for small, medium and large producers and support small and medium sized agriculture by growing local and regional markets for meat.

3. Meet with all major purchasers of meat, poultry and eggs (governments, 'big box' stores, fast food chains and retailers) and develop product specifications that mandate food safety and sustainability at a fair price.

4. Visit victims of foodborne illness outbreaks and bring along key FSIS staffers and industry leaders. Visit people like the parents of Abby Fenstermaker: (See video below.)

5. Develop uniform cooking, handling and labeling instructions that actually provide helpful guidance to the public (in contrast, for example, the suggestion to "cook thoroughly)."

6. Enforce a real zero-tolerance policy for E. coli O157:H7, non-O157 EHEC's and all other antibiotic resistance bacteria on all meats.

7. Conduct meaningful sampling and surveillance at farms, slaughter facilities and retail to determine the real prevalence of all pathogens and provide that data to the public.

8. Post all Non-compliance Report (NR's), product test results, other enforcement documents at manufacturing operations online in real-time (like restaurant health inspections are).

9. Create manufacturer quality certifications to aid consumers in making safe choices, and allow companies to capture price premiums for higher quality.

10. Increase food inspections. While domestic production has continued to be a problem, imports pose an increasing risk, especially if terrorists were to get into the act. Points of export and entry are a logical place to step up monitoring. We need more inspectors - domestically and abroad.

11. Make better use of our technology to ensure traceability of all food so that when an outbreak occurs authorities can quickly identify the source and limit the spread of the contamination and stop the disruption to the economy.

12. Improve surveillance of bacterial and viral diseases; First responders - ER physicians and local doctors - need to be encouraged to test for pathogens and report findings directly to local and state health departments and the CDC promptly.

13. Fire any FSIS employee that would believe and/or be quoted saying anything like: "I have to look at the entire industry, not just what is best for public health."

I am sure there are other ideas and even better ideas - If there was an Undersecretary of Food Safety I would suggest you email those to him or her. The following is video for point 4 above: