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National Research Council Releases Report Recommending Posting of Testing and Inspection Data With Plant Names Identified

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

(American Meat Institute)

The National Academy of Sciences’ (NAS) National Research Council today released a new report that recommends the public posting of Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS) inspection and testing data with plants identified, claiming that that the release of such data could contribute to increased transparency and provide insights that go beyond the regulatory uses for which the data are collected.  Currently, most information that is readily available is aggregated and plants are not named, though plant information can be requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

The report noted that the benefits of releasing FSIS data must be balanced against potential unintended adverse consequences. These could include impacts on facilities' profitability, possible misinterpretation of the data, pressure on inspector performance and unintentional release of proprietary or confidential information. However, the research committee concluded that while adverse impacts are possible, there is limited systematic evidence documenting their likelihood.   In a webinar today, NAS officials acknowledged that in order for the information to be useful to the consumer, it needed to be provided in context, though NAS declined to specify what that context might be.

“The National Academy of Sciences recommendations about data and record sharing from USDA are well intentioned, but concerning,” said AMI President and CEO J. Patrick Boyle. “Our comprehensive and continuous meat and poultry inspection system generates a massive amount of data and reports every day.   Providing access to consumers requires that the information be provided in a meaningful context, and given the nature of the records generated, that context is going to be nearly impossible to establish given the different sizes of plants, volumes, types of livestock processed and nature of produced.  Without an appropriate context, a massive data release will only serve to confuse and possibly alarm the public about the products.   It is essential that if USDA generated data and records are released, USDA must also convey to consumers that no product is released from an establishment until the product is inspected and passed as wholesome.”

To view the report, go to http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13304.

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