WASHINGTON - September 7, 2010 - Chuck Grassley today requested further information about the process used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture when employees at monitored farms come forward to USDA officials with food safety concerns.
"Americans have enjoyed one of the safest and most abundant food supplies in the world. Confidence in our food supply is very important. First and foremost is the safety of the consumer. But, also, if the consumer doesn't have confidence in our food supply, it impacts the farmer," Grassley said. "To maintain that confidence, it's important we evaluate and ask questions about where things might have fallen through the cracks so it doesn't happen again."
Grassley's letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack follows press reports about complaints raised by individuals at the facilities involved in the egg recall.
The letter asks if the Department received complaints and what was done to investigate the concerns. Grassley also asks about the Food Safety Inspection Service's responsibilities at the two farms.
In addition, Grassley asked about the procedures in place when concerns are raised in areas of joint jurisdiction, such as the USDA and the FDA in this particular instance.
Here's a copy of the text of Grassley's letter.
September 7, 2010
Secretary Tom Vilsack
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave SW
Washington, DC 20250
Dear Secretary Vilsack,
The recent egg recalls due to a Salmonella outbreak at Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms in Iowa have troubled consumers and weakened confidence in our nation's food supply. When Americans visit their local grocery stores, they should be able to trust that the food they are purchasing to feed their family is safe to consume.
Recent media reports indicate that former company employees reported food safety problems they had observed while working at Wright County Egg. While I understand that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authority over shell eggs, has issued the egg recall and is involved in the investigation of the Salmonella outbreak, USDA does have primary jurisdiction over egg product safety and has non-food safety employees located at farms including Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) graders.
In light of the complaints raised by these individuals, please answer following the questions:
1) Did USDA receive complaints from company employees and if so, what was done to investigate these concerns?
2) What were the Food Safety Inspection Service's (FSIS) responsibilities in relation to these two farms? When was the last FSIS inspection conducted?
3) Is there an established process so that USDA employees (such as AMS graders) or company employees and other individuals can report possible food safety violations to FSIS?
4) Is there an established process for USDA employees to report food safety concerns to the FDA when they fall outside of USDA's jurisdiction?
5) What is USDA doing to counter deficiencies in food safety communication within the USDA and between the two agencies? How are USDA and FDA coordinating to best address food safety concerns and ensure that food safety problems do not fall through the cracks?
Thank you for your prompt response to this important issue.
Charles E. Grassley
United States Senator