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AMI President and CEO Defends Safety of Meat Supply During Appearance on `Larry King Live'

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

(American Meat Institute)

“(The meat industry) has invested tens of millions of dollars over the last ten years in research programs to make our products safer. And they've shared the results in a non-competitive environment, so we can spread the knowledge throughout the industry,” AMI President and CEO J. Patrick Boyle said during an appearance on CNN’s “Larry King Live” that aired last night.

The segment, entitled “Beef: Safe or Scary,” was prompted by the recent New York Times article on ground beef safety by investigative reporter Michael Moss that ran on October 4 ("Woman's Shattered Life Shows Ground Beef Inspection Flaws").

Boyle was part of a large panel of guests that included attorney Bill Marler, former U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary for Food Safety Elsa A. Murano, Ph.D., Colin Campbell, Ph.D., of Cornell University, Nancy Rodriguez, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Connecticut and chef Anthony Bourdain.

 During the segment, Boyle noted that while the industry has a great deal of sympathy and empathy for those affected by E. coli O157:H7, the positive development is that these kinds of tragic illnesses are decreasing in America.

 “These illnesses are down 60 percent in the last 10 years,” Boyle said. “And the reason for that reduction in E. coli related illnesses is because the incidence of that pathogen in our beef products has dropped by 45 percent during that same 10-year period and that's not just a random development. It's because of investment, technology, research, more sophisticated process control. So we are making significant progress in taking a very safe food supply and making it even safer.”

Attorney Bill Marler agreed with King when he pointed out that the vast majority of people eat hamburgers without any incident.  “Absolutely,” said Marler.  “The industry has done a very good job.”

Boyle said there are two steps available to eliminate E. coli in the ground beef supply. One is through irradiation, which is not widely used. And the other is through proper cooking of the product.

During the segment, which included questions from viewers, Boyle also defended modern agriculture production, noting that low cost, efficient meat and poultry processing facilities give Americans an abundant variety of safe and wholesome products at the lowest price in terms of disposable income of any developed country in the world.

King said that USDA had been invited to participate, but declined.  Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack provided a statement in which he said, “Recognizing the importance of the food safety issue, President Obama established a Food Safety Working Group within 60 days of taking office. As chairs of that working group, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and I led a thorough review of the entire food safety system from top to bottom to look for gaps and failures in the system and identified improvements to prevent such foodborne illness tragedies. We issued our first findings on July 7 and immediately began to implement significant policy changes to reduce foodborne illnesses.”

King gave Boyle the last word on E. coli at the end of the segment.

“The beef supply is safer today in terms of E. coli incidents than it was five years ago,” Boyle concluded.” It was safer five years ago than it was ten years ago. We continue to make enormous investments in technology and process controls. The industry itself conducts millions of E. coli tests within our plants to better understand the effectiveness of our interventions. We need more interventions. For example, five years ago, the American Meat Institute petitioned USDA to allow us to use irradiation on the exterior carcasses. Five years later, the department has yet to commence a rule making to determine if we can utilize that technology. We need good responses from USDA.”

To view a transcript of this segment, click here: http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0910/12/lkl.01.html

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