FOOD SAFETY SCAN: Potential food inspection cuts, botulism antitoxin recommendation

Feb 14, 2013

USDA, meat industry clash over possible sequestration inspection cuts
The impact of possible sequestration cuts to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has spurred an intense volley of letters between federal officials and meat industry groups over the possible impact on food inspectors. A Feb 8 White House statement that outlined several possible effects of sequestration said the cuts could mean 2,100 fewer food inspections, which could pose a threat to food safety and food production. Also, a memo from the Obama Administration's Office of Management and Budget said the cuts could lead to a 2-week furlough of food safety inspectors, and media reports have quoted USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack airing the possibility of inspection cuts, Food Safety News (FSN) reported. Yesterday National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) president Scott George issued a statement saying it was concerned about Vilsack's comments and the threat of the furlough, which he said would sideline meat production. He said the government is legally bound to provide and fund inspections for meat, poultry, and egg products and that Vilsack was using the industry as "pawns in the agency's political wrangling with Congress." On Feb 11 the American Meat Institute (AMI) issued a statement saying that its president, J. Patrick Boyle, had sent a letter to the White House reminding it that the federal government has a statutory obligation to provide the services. Vilsack wrote a letter back to the AMI, saying that the furloughs would be impossible to avoid under sequestration, FSN reported today. Vilsack told the AMI that the USDA views the furloughs as the last option to achieve the cuts and he urged them to put pressure on Congress to avoid sequestration. The automatic cuts were part of an August 2011 bipartisan bill to raise the national debt limit. Sequestration would cut $1.1 trillion from defense and discretionary funding over the next 10 years unless Congress finds other ways to make the cuts.
Feb 8 White House fact sheet
Feb 14 FSN story
Feb 13 NCBA statement
Feb 11 AMI statement

FDA advisers recommend botulism antitoxin
Cangene, a pharmaceutical company based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, recently announced that a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee has recommended approval of its botulism antitoxin for treating symptoms or managing suspected exposure to botulinum neurotoxin from naturally occurring food contamination or potential bioterror attacks. The company said in a Feb 12 statement that that the FDA's Blood Products Advisory Committee unanimously agreed that there is a likely clinical benefit and an acceptable risk profile, and that studies adequately support proposed dosing in adults. The antitoxin covers seven serotypes and has previously received orphan drug designation. Currently, the product is the only antitoxin available in the United States for treating naturally occurring noninfant botulism and is available from the government through an emergency-use exemption. It has been in the Strategic National Stockpile since 2007. The advisory group's recommendation is nonbinding, and Cangene said it expects a final FDA decision by Mar 22. The antitoxin was developed with a $427 million contract from the US Department of Health and Human Services through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).
Feb 12 Cangene press release

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