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Agriculture Secretary Says USDA Considering Changes to Meat and Poultry Inspection System, Enforcement Authorities

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman yesterday said USDA is considering asking for legislative authority to use several new tools -- including the imposition of civil penalties on meat and poultry companies -- that would purportedly "modernize " the Department’s inspection authority.

During remarks to the 2003 Food Safety Summit and Expo, Veneman said that USDA such civil penalties could be imposed after the agency provided notice in writing, after "continued noncompliance" by meat and poultry establishments, and after an opportunity for a hearing before an administrative law judge.

In addition, USDA is considering changes that would require plants to notify USDA when there is reason to believe that meat or poultry has been adulterated or misbranded. Also, cease-and-desist authority and potential suspensions at earlier phases and on an expedited basis arising from HACCP violations may be considered, she said. USDA would need additional statutory authority in order to proceed with these actions.

Veneman said these ideas are not the only options and that USDA will work with all interested parties to look at new ideas for enhancing food safety systems and providing incentives for compliance. However, AMI President J. Patrick Boyle said that the imposition of civil penalties would do nothing to modernize the meat industry as Veneman suggested in her speech.

"Modernizing meat inspection means applying more science and technology to the system to prevent problems - not just increasing the size and quantity of the regulatory penalties that the government can impose after problems occur," Boyle said. "Sustaining declines that we have seen in both bacteria on meat and poultry and in foodborne illnesses requires multi-dimensional, scientific strategies that extend throughout food production, processing, distribution and preparation. Unfortunately, one-dimensional solutions cannot solve multi-dimensional problems."

Veneman also announced today that USDA will upgrade existing training programs by integrating scientific and technical advances, including HACCP validation, into its programs and augmenting current training programs through distance-learning and interactive sessions near employees’ work-sites. In addition, USDA is creating collaborative teams to develop and validate decontamination strategies, she said.

To view Veneman’s comments, visit http://www.usda.gov/news/releases/2003/03/0092.htm .

To view AMI’s statement, visit http://www.meatinstitute.org/Template.cfm?Section=Current&NavMenuID=274&template=PressReleaseDisplay.cfm&PressReleaseID=1491 .

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