Key achievements were only a phone call away during pandemic year 2

Key achievements were only a phone call away during pandemic year 2

by Sue Jones
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The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service named its key achievements for 2021 that the agency claims highlight progress in its mission to prevent foodborne illness and protect public health.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) provides on-the-spot inspection services at more than 6,200 meat and poultry processing facilities spread throughout the country. But its leadership has just put in another pandemic year, where telephonic conferences accomplished almost all communication.

Public calendars’ records of FSIS leadership meetings with people outside the federal government are not yet available for the last three months of 2021. When available, they will provide more evidence of why the hallways of the Jamie Whitten Building are so quiet. For yet another year, no in-person meetings with FSIS brass occurred.

“The hallmark of 2021 was the announcement of the agency’s new approach to Salmonella in poultry,” FSIS said. “The initiative, launched in October, casts an inclusive net in the pursuit of innovative approaches to pathogen control that is responsive to evolving food safety hazards and embraces the latest science and technology. 

“As a public health agency, we can and must find a more effective way to reduce foodborne illness,” said Sandra Eskin, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety. “We’ve embarked on a collaborative effort to revise how we reduce Salmonella illnesses associated with poultry products.”

The FSIS is inviting poultry slaughter and processing establishments to submit proposals for pilot projects that will evaluate different control strategies for Salmonella contamination in poultry products. 

Other 2021 accomplishments cited by the agency were working for fairer markets for small establishments and new ongoing rulemaking for labeling meat and poultry products made in laboratories from cultured cells. They continued COVID-19 safety measures in regulated establishments.

The FSIS also cut its inspection fees for smaller facilities, a $17.4 million benefit for 2,421 small establishments.

July, August and September are the most recent months with available public calendars. FSIS Administrator Paul Kiecker did a telephonic update to small plants in North Carolina on July 8.

On July 15, Sandra Eskin- Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, did telephonic conferences with consumer and industry stakeholders in separate meetings.

Kiecker, on July 21, provided all USDA-regulated establishments and industry representatives with a telephonic update.

Eskin met on Aug. 9 with Randy Russell of The Russel Group and Kathryn Unger, vice president for North America Government Relations at Cargill regarding an “Industry Transaction.” Included in the meeting were Kiecker, Jeremy Todd Reed, chief pperating officer; and Karen Hunter, chief of staff, FSIS; 

On Aug. 10, Eskin did “Meet and Greet” sessions with Jake Kuhns, Director of Federal Government Relations at Cargill, and Angie Siemens, vice president at Cargill. 

On Aug 11, she did another “Meet and Greet” with Grant Leslie, managing director for Glover Park Group; Julie Marcell of Upside Foods; Uma Valeti, founder of Upside Foods; and Eric Schulze, vice president of product and regulation for Upside Foods.

On Aug. 18, a Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS) Study was subject of a telephonic conference led by Eskin and Kiecker with Kelly Nuckolls, senior policy specialist for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and Michele Pfannenstiel, CEO of Dirigo Food Safety.

Also, on Aug. 18, Kiecker provided all USDA-regulated establishments and industry representatives with another telephonic update.

On Aug. 25, Eskin led a telephonic update for small and very small establishments in Wisconsin.

Eskin reports holding two meetings on Aug. 26 and 27 for input on “Industry Salmonella Key Performance Indicator (KPI).” But the public calendar does not say who from outside the federal government was involved in those telephonic conferences.

From the agency, those meetings involved: Terri Nintemann, deputy administrator at FSIS; Jeremy Todd Reed, chief operating officer at FSIS; Atiya Khan, chief of staff for OFS; Karen Hunter, chief of staff for FSIS; Robert Witte, acting deputy chief of staff at FSIS; Mark Williams, acting deputy chief of staff at FSIS; and FSIS assistant administrators.

Rebecca Barnett, public policy manager for National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA); Elizabeth Rowland, chief human resource and program officer for NASDA; Blayne Arthur, secretary for NASDA; and Charles Hatcher, commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture participated in a telephonic conference with Eakin and others from FSIS about a Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS) study.

That meeting closed out the month on Aug 27.

On Sept. 9, the FSIS leadership held a telephonic meeting with Deanna Brown, president of the National Association of Federal Veterinarians; Joseph Annelli, executive vice president for the National Association of Federal Veterinarians; Mariana Barros-Titus, National Association of Federal Veterinarians government relations, Cargill. Veterinarian feedback was the topic.

Mike Markiewicz, CEO of Bell and Evans; Mike Bracrella, COO of Bell and Evans; Carmen Rottenberg, managing director of Groundswell Strategies; and Kelly Gartner, Vice President  of Food Safety and Quality for Bell and Evans discussed “operational updates” with Eskin, Kiecker and others from FSIS on Sept. 10.

Later that day, FSIS mask requirements were discussed with Amy Robinette of Micro Summit Processors; Robert Long of Golden City Meats; Brooke Miller, president of U.S. Cattlemen’s Association; Jess Peterson of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association; and Lia Biondo, associate for Western Skies Strategies.

Terri Nintemann, deputy administrator for FSIS, on Sept. 15, held the monthly telephonic conference for all USDA-regulated establishments and industry representatives.

National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) connected with Eskin over the Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS) Program Improvement on Sept. 16.

Eskin and Atiya Khan, chief of staff the OFS; Karen Hunter, chief of staff for FSIS; Rachel Edelstein, assistant administrator for OPPD; Carol Blake, assistant administrator of FSIS; Aaron Lavallee, deputy assistant administrator for OPACE; and Matthew Michael, director of regulations and development for the Office of Policy and Program Development; were all conferenced in over a meeting about horse slaughter on Sept. 20. Since FSIS is banned from spending money on horse slaughter, it might seem strange. However, the meeting was with activists Gillian Lyons, senior regulatory specialist for the Humane Society Legislative Fund; and Keith Dane, senior advisor of equine protection, for the Humane Society.

A “Protein PACT” was the topic of a Sept. 27 meeting Eskin held with Julie Anna Potts, president and CEO of the North American Meat Institute; Casey Gallimore, director of regulatory and scientific affairs for the North American Meat Institute; and KatieRose McCullough, director of regulatory and scientific affairs for the North American Meat Institute.

Kiecker welcomed a rare hybrid meeting to discuss inspection fees, training resources, product labeling, and exports. It was with Dave Carter, National Bison Association executive director; and Donnis Baggett National Bison Association president;

Dr. Kristi Cammack, director, of the Center of Excellence for Bison Studies-South Dakota; Kristopher Kelley, manager of the Kentucky Bison Co. and Memphis Meat Processing, Kentucky; and Jason Baldes, Tribal Partnerships, Tribal Bison coordinator.

Some were on the phone and some were in Washington D.C. for the meeting.

International trade, line speeds, taxes, and labeling were on the table on Sept. 28 for a meeting Kiecker led with Bill Mattos of the California Poultry Federation; Tom Bower of Foster Farms; Dalton Rasmussen of Squab Producers of California; and David Rubenstein of Pitman Family Farms.

On Sept. 30, Kiecker and others from FSIS met to call “Leonard Lang” about Port Congestion. No further identification was provided for Mr. Lang.

Eskin was on the phone on Sept. 28, taking calls with Mark Dopp, COO for the North American Meat Institute; Mike Taylor of the STOP Foodborne Illness Board of Directors; and Lia Biondo for Western Skies Strategies and the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association.

With Dopp, she talked about vaccines for federal employees. With Taylor, the topic was Salmonella control. And Biondo and Eskin discussed “Product of the USA” reforms.

Kiecker finished the month with a Sept. 30 call with industry stakeholders, and Eskin did a “Meet and Greet” with Stan Bailey, senior director of scientific affairs at bioMérieux; Vikrant Dutta, senior director of scientific affairs at bioMérieux; and Carmen Rottenberg of Groundswell Strategy.

The latest lists of industry and consumer participants in FSIS monthly calls are provided below.

Collaborative Representatives (OFS-FSIS)

  • Teleconference Attendance
    • James Rogers, Consumers Union
    • Thomas Gremillion, Consumer Federation
    • Zachary Corrigan, Food and Water Watch
    • Sarah Sorscher, Center for Science in the Public Interest
    • James Kincheloe, Center for Science in the Public Interest
    • Mitzi Baum, Stop Foodborne Illness
    • Shrinidhi Joshi, Stop Foodborne Illness
    • Vanessa Coffman, Stop Foodborne Illness
    • Julia Ranney, Center for Food Safety
    • Jaydee Hanson, Center for Food Safety
    • Katie Stolte-Carroll, OSU-Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention
    • Tanya Roberts, OSU-Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention
    • Barbara Kowalcyk, OSU-Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention
    • Rachel Lyons, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union

Industry Representatives (OFS-FSIS)

  • Teleconference Attendance
    • Chase DeCoite, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
    • Tina Rendon, Pilgrim’s Pride
    • Andrew Cotton, AFJ & Associates
    • Mark Bowen, National Fisheries Institute
    • Art Rogers, JBS USA Food Company
    • Charlotte Waller, VPGC LLC
    • Roberta Wagner, Consumer Brands Association
    • Betsy Booren, Consumer Brands Association
    • Katie Hanigan, Smithfield Foods
    • Stephen Sothmann, Meat Import Council of America
    • Ashley Peterson, National Chicken Council
    • Lisa Wallenda Picard, National Chicken Council
    • Roya Galindo, North American Meat Institute
    • Casey Gallimore, North American Meat Institute
    • KatieRose McCullough, North American Meat Institute
    • John Dillard, Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz PC
    • Andrew Do, Covington & Burling LLP
    • Bryan Miller, Wayne Farms
    • Marie Bucko, National Pork Producers Council
    • Ken Peterson, OSI Group
    • Brian Eyink, Hogan Lovells US LLP
    • Robert Post, Foodtrition Solutions, LLC/National Seasoning Manufacturers Association Inc.
    • Kathy Simmons, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
    • Alex Noffsinger, The Russell Group
    • Ryan Algino, JBS USA Food Company
    • Oscar Garrison, United Egg Producers
    • Carmen Rottenberg, Groundswell Strategies
    • Ashley E. Eisenbeiser, The Food Industry Association
    • Dan Etzler, Cargill
    • Andrew Bailey, National Pork Producers Council
    • Chase Adams, American Sheep Industry Association
    • Cheyenne McEndaffer, U.S. Meat Export Federation
    • Charles Link, Butterball LLC
    • Hilary Thesmar, The Food Industry Association
    • Christine Forgues, Hogan Lovells US LLP
    • Amanda Rials, Alabama Technology Network
    • Alice Craft-McLaughlin, Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation
    • Cathrine Linder, Tyson Foods Inc.
    • Brianne Froelich, Renaissance Food Group
    • Dane Bernard, Bold Bear Food Safety
    • Donna Garren, American Frozen Food Institute
    • Sarah Anderson, Minnesota Turkey Growers Association
    • Travis Arp, U.S. Meat Export Federation
    • David Haller, Holland & Knight
    • Buffy Montgomery, Conagra Branda
    • Kyla Kaplan, Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz PC
    • Sherri Trujillo, JBS USA Food Company
    • Michael Formica
    • Bob Lane

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