Live from NMA: Industry execs call for unity on food safety


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By Lisa M. Keefe on 2/24/2009


LAS VEGAS The need to speak with one voice on the issue of food safety and to address the issue proactively was the theme running through the various presentations during the general session of the National Meat Association's MeatXpo '08 convention in Las Vegas.

"This industry has to work together to face these issues. This bickering among ourselves has to quit," said JBS-Swift spokesman Chandler Keys during the 10- to 15-minute "bullet session" presentations that comprised the general session meeting.

In the wake of a bad year for meat-related recalls and the opportunities and challenges presented by a new Presidential administration, the pressure is on the industry to rise to the occasion, these speakers said.

"In our industry we have to be accountable and creditable. We have to have access [to federal and Congressional decision-makers] and we have to manage the access credibly," Keys said.

There are further steps that processors can take to improve the safety of the products leaving their facilities, the speakers said. Too often, industry players blame others in the supply chain for problems, including consumers.

"Maybe it's time we have some open dialogues [on the issues related to food safety] and conduct these discussions openly," said Kerri B. Harris, president and CEO of International HACCP Alliance. "I hope that 13 years from now we won't still be having these conversations. I hope we can do something as a group other than point fingers."

From the foodservice side, Dave Theno, retired senior vice president, quality and logistics for Jack in the Box Inc., noted that he joined the company shortly after its 1993 e.Coli contamination crisis and helped build its improved food safety initiatives.

"All that we accomplished we did with full disclosure and partnership," he said. "It's made things better, because we dared to say, 'Why not?'

"The industry is full of reasons why you can't change," he went on. "If you think food safety won't be the cornerstone issue [doing forward], you're misinformed. It's in your hands. Why can't we do something better?"



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