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American Meat Institute Says Hasty Launch of Risk-Based Inspection System Could Jeopardize Consumer Confidence in Increasingly Safe Meat and Poultry Supply

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Washington, D.C. - While shifting to a risk-based inspection system for processed meat and poultry products makes theoretical sense, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) hasty roll-out of this program without affirmative support from its inspectors union, consumer organizations and participating meat and poultry companies could unnecessarily jeopardize consumer confidence in a meat and poultry supply that has improved its safety profile dramatically over the last decade.

According to the American Meat Institute (AMI), the industry has provided comments about what it presumed would be a thoughtful and collaborative process, but today’s announcement took the industry by surprise. Previous efforts to pilot test new approaches to meat and poultry inspection have always been done with the voluntary participation of meat and poultry plants. This effort stands in sharp contrast to historic efforts, as the meat and poultry industry were told today that USDA will be selecting participating plants for this new prototype program.

“A carefully constructed risk-based inspection system has the potential to enhance food safety. However, key constituents like inspectors, consumers and industry are unclear about precisely how this program will work and therefore have significant concerns,” said AMI President J. Patrick Boyle. “USDA is forcing 250 plants that produce branded, trusted meat and poultry products into a new and already controversial program with little notice or buy-in. This approach could threaten consumer confidence in these companies and their products after a decade of dramatic food safety enhancements. “

Boyle urged USDA to slow this process down, solicit additional input and make participation voluntary. He said the industry has worked – and will continue to work – with USDA to develop a program that has support from all parties.

According to Boyle, the incidence of E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef products is down by 80 percent over the last five years. Likewise, E. coli O157:H7 infections are down sharply, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Similarly, the incidence of Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat meat and poultry products is down by 70 percent and illnesses caused by Listeria are also down. Consistent with these results, the number of meat and poultry recalls, and the pounds of product involved in those recalls, are down dramatically.

“This rush to launch a potentially worthwhile prototype may become a needless public relations and political distraction,” Boyle said. “We’ve learned from experience what strong responses meat inspection changes can ignite. This controversy can be avoided by working deliberatively and inclusively.”

For more information contact:
David Ray
Vice President, Public Affairs
Janet Riley
Sr. Vice President, Public Aff

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