|Testimonies and Speeches|
Good morning. I am Michael Jacobson, Executive Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). CSPI is a non-profit consumer-advocacy organization with one million members that focuses on nutrition, food safety, and alcohol issues. Accompanying me today is Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety at CSPI, who co-authored CSPIs report, Scrambled Eggs: How a Broken Food-Safety System Let Contaminated Eggs Become a National Food Poisoning Epidemic.1 We have attached a copy of that report to this testimony for inclusion in the hearing record.
Most consumers think that the government is making sure their food is safe. But the government watchdogs were asleep while eggs contaminated with Salmonella grew into a national public-health epidemic. Fifteen to twenty years ago, a strain of Salmonella called enteritidis developed the ability to infect a chickens ovaries and enter the egg before it is laid. The advent of that enterprising new strain of bacterium means that it is no longer safe to eat runny eggs, taste cookie dough, or enjoy raw eggs in desserts and salads.
Today, infected chickens lay an estimated 2.3 million eggs each year seeded with Salmonella inside the shell, any one of which could cause an illness or an outbreak of food poisoning.2 According to data collected by CSPI from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other sources, since 1990, eggs have been directly linked to at least 123 separate outbreaks of food poisoning, mostly from Salmonella enteritidis (SE) (See Appendix A).3 While those data represent just a partial listing of outbreaks from eggs, they clearly show that the tiny bacterium has fostered a major public health problem.
A recent risk assessment on eggs conducted by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said that SE-contaminated eggs have caused an average of 661,633 illnesses and 331 deaths annually.4 While recent CDC data suggest that the number of outbreaks and illnesses linked to SE has begun to decline5 (a fact probably linked in part to focused consumer education on the hazards of eggs), many more illnesses could be prevented with better government oversight of the egg industry.
In 1986, CDC first identified SE in eggs as a public-health problem, when a food-poisoning outbreak in seven states sickened more than 3,000 people.6 Since then, the fractured federal food-safety system has taken only baby steps to remedy this serious problem.
What has happened during the last 13 years? With four government agencies sharing responsibility for regulating eggs and the egg industry, consumers certainly expect that the SE problem would have been dealt with expeditiously. But this may be a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth:
This chart highlights just some of the ways that a tiny foodborne bacterium outsmarted the federal government:
There has been little visible action since CSPI petitioned the FDA. Last summer, FDA and USDA issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking that included several of CSPIs proposals,23 but no new rules have emerged. This August, USDA finally will implement the Congressionally mandated 45-degree refrigeration requirement for eggs during transportation and storage.24 That action comes eight years after Congress first instructed the agency to do so, and two years after Dateline NBC aired a story on egg safety highlighting the agencys failure to mandate temperature requirements.25
While those modest actions signal an increased willingness to tackle egg safety, FDA and USDA have so far failed to utilize the most effective public-health measure to combat SE: on-farm Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) programs for shell-egg producers. Though temperature controls and labeling help prevent illnesses from contaminated eggs, on-farm HACCP programs would help prevent eggs from being infected with SE in the first place.
A mandatory on-farm HACCP system should be the cornerstone of a comprehensive regulatory program for shell eggs. HACCP systems are flexible, they are effective and they are economical, especially when the costs of preventing food poisoning are factored in.
Under an on-farm HACCP program, eggs from any flocks that test positive for SE could be diverted to egg-pasteurization plants, which sell liquid and powdered egg products. In a risk assessment of the shell-egg production system, researchers estimated that diverting 25 percent of eggs from SE-positive flocks from the shell egg market would reduce human illness by 25 percent,26 and diversion of a greater number of eggs should have a proportionately greater public health impact. On-farm HACCP, coupled with egg diversion, is the only measure that would greatly reduce the number of SE-contaminated shell eggs reaching consumers.
While an anticipated White House announcement on egg safety will represent the first significant effort to coordinate policy between USDA and FDA, a farm-to-table SE-control program would be far easier to implement if a single agency were responsible for ensuring shell-egg safety. The examples I have cited previously of overlapping responsibilities between agencies, the irrational assignment of inspectors, and agencies developing duplicative and competing SE-control programs illustrate the clear need for more central federal oversight of food safety. That is why we strongly support legislation sponsored by Senator Durbin to unite the federal food- safety programs into a single independent Food Safety Administration.27
Thank you for your attention to this important public health problem. I would be happy to answer your questions.
1 Elizabeth Dahl and Caroline Smith DeWaal, Scrambled Eggs: How a Broken Food Safety System Let Contaminated Eggs Become a National Food Poisoning Epidemic, (Washington, DC: Center for Science in the Public Interest, May 1997).
2 Salmonella enteritidis Risk Assessment Team, for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Salmonella enteritidis Risk Assessment. Shell Eggs and Egg Products. Final Report, June 12, 1998, p. 1 [hereinafter cited as Salmonella enteritidis Risk Assessment].
3 Center for Science in the Public Interest, Outbreaks Traced to FDA-Regulated Foods, 1990-1999, Updated June 18, 1999.
4 Salmonella enteritidis Risk Assessment, p. 1.
5 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Incidence of Foodborne Illnesses: Preliminary Data from the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) -- United States, 1998, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Vol. 48, No. 9 (1999), pp. 189-194
6 U.S. General Accounting Office, Food Safety and Quality: Salmonella Control Efforts Show Need for More Coordination, (Washington, DC: U.S. General Accounting Office, April 1992), p. 10.
7 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Salmonella Isolations from Human Sources by Serotype and Year Reported to CDC, 1985-1995, Salmonella Surveillance: Annual Tabulation Summary 1993-1995 (Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), Table 3 [hereinafter cited as Salmonella Isolations, 1985-1995].
8 Bruce Ingersoll, U.S. to Mandate Testing of Poultry for Salmonella, Wall Street Journal, February 20, 1990, p. B5 [hereinafter cited as Testing of Poultry for Salmonella].
9 Telephone conversation with Dawn Kent, Public Affairs, APHIS, Washington, D.C., April 29, 1997; 9 C.F.R. § 53.2.
10 Testing of Poultry for Salmonella, p. B5.
11 Salmonella Isolations, 1985-1995.
12 9 C.F.R. §§ 71, 82.
13 SE Traceback Program Decreased in Effectiveness, USDA Office of Inspector General Reports, Food Chemical News, January 15, 1996, p. 23.
14 21 U.S.C. § 1034(e).
15 Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Refrigeration and Labeling Requirements for Shell Eggs, Final Rule and Request for Comments, Federal Register, Vol. 63, No. 166 (1998), p. 45663.
16 Pennsylvania Poultry Producers, et al., Salmonella enteritidis Pilot Project Progress Report, May 22, 1995, p. 1.
17 Pennsylvania Poultry Federation, Pennsylvania Egg Quality Assurance Program, May 1994.
18 Salmonella Isolations, 1985-1995.
19 Allan Hogue, et al., Salmonella enteritidis Review Team Report, Final, January 18, 1997, pp. 1-3, 9-10.
20 Conversation with Robert Tauxe, CDC, Washington, DC, Oct. 30, 1996; FSIS Budget Set by House, Senate Not Encouraging, Official Says, Food Chemical News, October 2, 1995, p. 43
21 Center for Science in the Public Interest, Petition for Regulatory Action to Require That (1) Warning Labels About the Risks of Salmonella enteritidis (SE) Be Placed on Shell Egg Cartons and (2) SE Control HACCP Programs Be Implemented on All Egg-Producing Farms, FDA Docket No. 97-P0197, May 14, 1997, pp. 12-15.
22 Ibid., pp. 9-11.
23 Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, and Department of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration, Salmonella enteritidis in Eggs, Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking; Request for Comments, Federal Register, Vol. 63, No. 96 (1998), pp. 27502-27511.
24 Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Refrigeration and Labeling Requirements for Shell Eggs, Final Rule and Request for Comments, Federal Register, Vol. 63, No. 166 (1998), p. 45663.
25 Ibid; Dateline NBC, air date September 17, 1996. Dateline also ran a story last year highlighting the practice of redating and repackaging old eggs. Dateline NBC, air date April 7, 1998, update April 21, 1998. USDA took steps to address that practice in AMSs voluntary grading program. For other eggs, the practice is allowed.
26 Salmonella enteritidis Risk Assessment, p. 25.
27 Safe Food Act of 1999, S. 1281, 106th Cong.