World Trade Organization chief Pascal Lamy said this week that a breakthrough in the long-stalled Doha round of trade negotiations is likely within months – even though many of the same stumbling blocks remain from earlier talks.
Trade issues also are looming in Asia, where the U.S. is scheduled to discuss agricultural trade next month. But South Korean officials refuse to lift restrictions on American imports that permit only boneless beef.
Meanwhile on the domestic meat front, the U.S. government is stepping up inspections at some meat and poultry plants – initiating the first overhaul of food safety inspections in ten years.
The USDA announced this week that it plans to step-up inspections at some meat and poultry plants beginning this April. The new policy is designed to increase scrutiny at processing plants where the threat of E. coli and other germs is high, or where past visits have found unsafe practices. Plants with fewer risks and better food-handling records will be inspected less often.
Richard Raymond, Under Secretary Food Safety: "I'd rather prevent a foodborne illness than perform the best recall you've ever saw. By the time we perform recalls we've missed the boat somewhere. Our goal with this effort is to increase inspection in those plant that need our help and our assistance."
According Richard Raymond, the Agriculture Department's top food safety official, the switch will occur at 250, or 5%, of the nations 5,300 processing plants. It is the first step in a gradual move towards risk-based inspections being implemented nationally by July of 2008.
Richard Raymond, Under Secretary Food Safety: "It's a small step measured by its diversity so we can take a good look over the next 6-7 months, based on data, is this system working as I envisioned it, or does it need some further tweaking.
Food safety critics aren't pleased with the proposed change. Carol Tucker Foreman, director of food policy for the Consumer Federation of America, said the policy was a result of the White House's desire to reduce spending and "will almost surely result in more illnesses and deaths from food poisoning."
The proposed change has meat processors crying foul as well. According to J. Patrick Boyle, president of the America Meat Institute, the hasty roll-out of the program "could threaten consumer confidence in these companies and their products after a decade of dramatic food safety enhancements."
Richard Raymond, Under Secretary Food Safety: "This is not cost saving. What this is… A plan to improve the food safety in America, decrease foodborne illnesses in America, and make our food products more enticing to our trade partners."
The Centers for Disease Control estimates 76 million cases of foodborne disease occur each year in the United States causing 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths.