A: It's been going on for longer, in April of 2006 we had some illness cases of O103 in New York and we thought they might have been connected to beef. It started a series of inquiries: How are states handling this? What kind of surveillance is out there? And how come this state does it differently from that state?.
We didn't have any detection capabilities, either for our labs, or commercial detection kits available. So we spent two years working with Agricultural Research Service so that we would have the right technology to find them in meat, and to be able to find them in a rapid turnaround, while not having a massive impact on production.
Once we got those things in place, then the data just kept adding up. CDC released new burden estimates for the first time in a decade and non-O157 was showing up at twice the rate of O157. The Food Net data came out for 2009 and it was very clear that things were on the upswing, and then the 2010 numbers for the first time ever showed non-O157 exceeding O157.
Q: Were you surprised by the very public push back from the industry, which argues that this isn't needed, it won't benefit public health, and it will impact trade?
A: In the beginning, industry had a lot of questions: How strong is the science? What is this going to mean for us? How much is this going to cost us? Is this really going to help? I don't think we were that surprised about the questions. There are so many great leaders in the industry who are totally headed in the right direction on this. But there's a small group that continues to advocate against our ability to protect consumers from something we know doesn't belong in the food supply.
Q: How much discussion has there been on the trade implications, could this potentially be a WTO issue?
A: The question that we had to answer in terms of trade was: Do we have a scientific basis for what we're doing?. In fact, what's required is that we have a scientific basis for what we're doing -- that we're not doing something protectionist.
We're tackling a domestic challenge, first and foremost, and as you know the way equivalency works, importing nations are going to have to meet the same challenges we're meeting. It's something we definitely have to think about, but I think we're in a good place. I'm not concerned about us not being able to stand behind the scientific basis of our decision-making.
Aporte: Eduardo Castillo