U.S. Department of Agriculture

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Widely known as USDA, the United States Department of Agriculture has a wide range of missions. From its strategic plan, its key activities are:

  1. expanding markets for agricultural products and support international economic development, #further developing alternative markets for agricultural products and activities,
  2. providing financing needed to help expand job opportunities and improve housing,
  3. utilities and infrastructure in rural America,
  4. enhancing food safety by taking steps to reduce the prevalence of foodborne hazards from farm to table,
  5. improving nutrition and health by providing food assistance and nutrition education and promotion,
  6. managing and protecting America's public and private lands working cooperatively with other levels of government and the private sector.

Food safety

USDA has regulatory, inspection, and research responsibilities in protecting the U.S. food supply.

Regulatory

USDA sets "standards of identity" for foods. A trivial example is that in a label for a food containing a mixture of ingredients, the predominant one must be listed first: "gravy and meatballs", rather than "meatballs and gravy". Individual cheeses, labeled as cheese, must meet certain criteria such as milkfat, but there is a spectrum:

  • cheese
  • pasteurized process cheese (a mixture of cheeses that is then pasteurized)
  • pasteurized process cheese must be at least 51% cheese; the rest may be other dairy produces
  • pasteurized process cheese spread is cheese food with a sweeteners and a stabilizing agents,
  • Pasteurized process cheese product is process cheese but has less milkfat or moisture than the standard for processed cheese of the relevant type
  • Imitation cheese is made from vegetable oil; it is allowed, however, to have a photograph of a cow in the place where it is made.

A much more serious role is designating microorganisms that are potential threats to crops or livestock. USDA participates in the Select Agent Program to regulate handling organisms that have the greatest potential for use as biological weapons. A given organism might be a purely agricultural threat, such as foot-and-mouth disease or camelpox, to an overlap agent that threatens both humans and agriculture, such as anthrax or tularemia.

Inspection

In USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) checks commercial production of meat, poultry, and egg products.

Research

The Department, specifically FSIS, manages the The National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF) which was established on March 18, 1988, in response to recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences and the Departmental appropriations for Fiscal Year 1998.

Other participants in NACMCF include the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and the U.S. Department of Defense Veterinary Service Activity.