The meat and poultry industry has powerful incentives to produce the safest possible meat and poultry. Producing safe food is good for customers, which is good for business. Producing meat and poultry in accordance with federal regulations not only helps prevent food safety issues in the marketplace, it prevents the disruptions that accompany regulatory enforcement actions.
USDA today unveiled some broad ideas about changes to the inspection system that are under consideration and likely would require additional statutory authority. Although such changes would “modify” the inspection system, these changes would not “modernize” it. 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.
The fact is, the meat and poultry industry is one of the most heavily regulated and inspected industries in the nation. Federal officials inspect meat and poultry plants on a daily basis. Many plants have several inspectors on duty during each shift. Inspection failures in meat and poultry plants can have serious consequences, including criminal penalties, withdrawal of inspection services (which closes plants), product detention and product seizures. Adding civil penalties and other disciplinary measures to the government's enforcement arsenal is simply another tool to “punish” a company after the fact, when resources should be invested to help find new and better ways to prevent problems before they occur.
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.
We will await further details of the actions under consideration and look forward to a constructive dialogue with USDA that will truly enhance meat and poultry safety.