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AMI Files Petition to Amend Food Safety and Inspection Service Rules of Practice

Tuesday, December 19, 2000

The American Meat Institute (AMI) last week petitioned USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to modify its Uniform Rules of Practice, which specify how meat and poultry inspection regulations should be enforced. The American Association of Meat Processors and Eastern Meat Packers Association joined in the December 15 petition.

According to AMI, the Rules of Practice issued by FSIS in November 1999 allow the agency to take enforcement actions beyond the statutory authority granted by the meat and poultry inspection acts. For example, the rules allow FSIS to impose suspensions and withholding actions in several instances not authorized by the law, as was seen earlier this year when a federal court prevented FSIS from suspending inspection at a Texas plant for an alleged failure to meet the Salmonella performance standard.

The petition seeks to amend the rules to comply with the law's limits and to ensure that federally inspected plants are afforded the due process protections guaranteed under the federal statutes and the Constitution.

The Rules of Practice, as written, identify nine separate circumstances that permit the FSIS Administrator to withdraw a grant of inspection, but the Acts give the Administrator much more limited authority. For example, the rules permit the agency to withdraw inspection if, for example, a grinder produced raw ground beef containing E. coli O157:H7 (section 500.4) even though the grinder could not have prevented the pathogen from being on the raw materials and in the absence of a legal proceeding and conviction, which the Acts clearly require.

“The rules allow FSIS to substitute itself for the judicial process and attempt to terminate the grant of inspection by filing an administrative complaint without benefit of a conviction in federal or state court as required,” the petition said. “This, FSIS may not do.”

The petition noted that a 1986 amendment to the Acts approved by Congress granted FSIS additional authority to suspend inspection services when a direct and substantial danger to the public health could be proved, but only after an appropriate finding by a court. The provision sunsetted in 1992 never having been used by FSIS. Several attempts to renew the authority were attempted throughout the 1990s, but none of the measures passed the House or Senate.

“The plain language of the statute, the 1986 Amendments, the agency’s repeatedly unsuccessful attempts to obtain the authority and the recent opinion of a United States District Court striking down the agency’s attempt to do just what section 500.4 provides (Supreme Beef case) demonstrated that these regulations lack statutory authority,” the petitioners noted. "Given the serious issues at stake in this petition, we hope the agency will respond swiftly," said AMI Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and General Counsel Mark Dopp. "The Rules of Practice as currently written jeopardize the reputation and successful operation of meat and poultry companies without any legal justification."

AMI represents the interests of packers and processors of beef, pork, lamb, veal and turkey products and their suppliers throughout North America. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute provides legislative, regulatory and public relations services, conducts scientific and economic research, offers marketing and technical assistance and sponsors education programs.

For more information contact:
Janet Riley
Vice President, Public Affairs
Josee Daoust
Manager, Public Affairs

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