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Statement of the American Meat Institute On GAO Report on Meat and Poultry Inspection

Friday, September 20, 2002
 

AMI agrees with many of the observations made by the General Accounting Office (GAO) about the U.S. meat and poultry inspection system. GAO's recommendations - particularly its support for additional inspector training -- seem constructive. It appears from USDA’s response, included as an appendix to the report, that the Department is already implementing many of GAO’s suggestions.

The meat and poultry industry hopes the public understands that the report is designed to offer criticism and recommendations for improvement; the report is not a condemnation of the U.S. meat and poultry inspection program. In fact, programs as robust as U.S. meat and poultry inspection can benefit and grow from such reviews and recommendations.

The facts speak for themselves: microbiological data collected by USDA show that bacteria on raw meat and poultry has declined significantly since Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) went into effect in 1997. The degree to which these improvements can be tied to HACCP and the degree to which they are linked to major new technologies implemented in the plants over the last five years is unclear. The bottom line remains: levels of natural bacteria on meat and poultry are declining. At the same time, newly released Centers for Disease Control data show a 23-percent overall drop for seven bacterial foodborne illnesses since 1996 - another piece of evidence that says the food safety needle is moving in the right direction.

HACCP food safety systems are the cornerstone of the U.S. meat and poultry inspection system and are the gold standard for enhancing food safety worldwide. That is why AMI in 1994 petitioned USDA to mandate HACCP systems throughout the meat and poultry industry. However, implementing these systems uniformly and enforcing federal regulations precisely throughout nearly 7,000 U.S. meat and poultry plants staffed by more than 7,000 meat and poultry inspectors is an enormous and complex management task. GAO’s observations certainly paint a vivid picture of the magnitude of the challenge.

Current Agriculture Department officials have pledged to enhance training of FSIS inspectors in an effort to improve enforcement and consistency of regulatory oversight nationwide. New computer systems at the Department also will help food safety officials to monitor trends within plants and address potential problems earlier. The GAO report also noted inadequate funding for sufficient numbers of USDA Consumer Safety Officers (CSOs) who are better trained and who take a more science-based approach to enforcement. We hope that Congress will take seriously future budget requests to ensure that adequate numbers of CSOs can be deployed.

Results are what count most and they say loud and clear we are providing safe and wholesome meat and poultry to consumers. A key component of ensuring safe food is a science-based, consistent inspection system. We look forward to working with the Bush Administration to achieve the change that will bring even greater margins of safety to the U.S. meat and poultry supply.

AMI represents the interests of packers and processors of beef, pork, lamb, veal and turkey products and their suppliers throughout North America. Together, AMI's members produce 95 percent of the beef, pork, lamb and veal products and 70 percent of the turkey products in the U.S. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute provides legislative, regulatory, public relations, technical, scientific and educational services to the industry. Its affiliate, the AMI Foundation, is a separate 501(c)3 organization that conducts research, education and information projects for the industry.


For more information contact:
Janet Riley
Vice President, Public Affairs
703-841-3635
jriley@meatinstitute.org
Josee Daoust
Manager, Public Affairs
703-841-3641
jdaoust@meatinstitute.org

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