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BSE, food defense top-of-mind topics among U.S. officials

Dr. Lester Crawford, administrator of the Food and Drug Administration, and Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns were keynote speakers at this year’s U.S. Food Safety Summit, held recently Washington. The topics of issue at this year’s summit were food defense and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

Johanns said, “Expanding our research efforts to improve the understanding of BSE and other food-related illness pathogens will strengthen the security of our nation’s food supply. These projects will help improve food safety by enhancing our research partnerships with the academic community and establish another tool to aid our response to food-related disease outbreaks.”

Johanns announced that almost $2 million in funding had been redirected to enhance research into BSE and that $5 million had been awarded to 17 colleges and universities to establish a Food Safety Research and Response Network.
The newly funded projects include international collaborations with the Veterinary Laboratory Agency in Great Britain, the Italian BSE Reference Laboratory, and the University of Santiago de Compostela in. About $750,000 will go toward a bio-containment facility now under construction at the ARS National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa.
The Food Safety Research and Response Network will include a team of more than 50 food safety experts from 18 colleges and universities who will investigate several of the most prevalent food-related illness pathogens such as E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter.

“(Food defense) is one of FDA’s highest priorities and one we share with our colleagues at USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Crawford said of the second topic of the summit. “It is also one that we can’t accomplish without the close cooperation and collaboration of key representatives of the food industry.”
“FDA has developed both an operational risk management strategy and what we refer to as the CARVER process to assess the vulnerability of all segments of the food system,” Crawford said. “With CARVER, we break a particular food system into its smallest ‘nodes’ in the farm-to-table continuum. We then analyze each node and identify the critical nodes that are most likely targets for terrorist attack. Identification of the critical nodes then leads to development of countermeasures to reduce the risk at these nodes.”

Two days prior to Crawford’s keynote address, food processors attending the meeting had an opportunity to test their knowledge and skills during a simulated bioterrorism exercise. Officials from government, law enforcement, and corporate security coordinated the exercise and focused on protecting product, securing facilities and working with suppliers and staff. The specific steps that need to be taken during a crisis were addressed, and then participants were put through a simulated crisis.

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