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AMI Seeks to Restore Order to Meat and Poultry Inspection Through 'Due Process'

Friday, March 6, 1998
 

The American Meat Institute today said that it was seeking to resolve meat and poultry inspection system disputes in an orderly fashion by requesting due process procedures to settle disputes between U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors and plants.

The Institute made its statement in comments filed in response USDA’s proposed “Rules of Practice,” published in the Federal Register January 12, 1998.

Federally-inspected meat and poultry plants with more than 500 employees are six weeks into implementation of a massive regulation designed to modernize the nation’s $600 million meat and poultry inspection system. However, as questions have arisen about enforcement of the complex new rules, plants have had no “due process” mechanism available to settle disputes and instead have faced shutdowns without notice. USDA’s “Rules of Practice” proposal was an attempt to create such a mechanism, but AMI believes the proposal is inadequate.

“To the extent that the proposal seeks to establish a uniform set of rules applicable to federally inspected meat and poultry processors, AMI supports the proposal,” AMI President J. Patrick Boyle said in the comments.

“The proposal, however, does not provide establishments with statutorily required procedural protections when the Food Safety and Inspection Services threatens to withhold the mark of inspection or suspend inspection services.”

According to AMI’s comments, the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) requires that before any license is suspended or withdrawn, a company must be given written notice and an opportunity to prove that it is in compliance with regulations or to achieve compliance in a timely fashion. The only exemptions are when the company is clearly, willfully violating the law or when there is a clear danger to public health and safety. In addition, current laws do not permit USDA to suspend or withdraw inspection based on alleged violations of the new regulations.

AMI said that the “Rules of Practice” proposal is even more problematic because it proposes to eliminate a requirement that FSIS tell the plant what actions are necessary to correct a situation and how much time the plant has to make the corrections.

“We are not seeking anything that is outside the boundaries of common sense,” Boyle said. “Basic fairness dictates that when a problem occurs, the affected party should be told the nature of the problem, what is expected and when it is expected. The party also should have the opportunity to respond.”

“No company should be expected to play a guessing game with a federal regulatory agency, and that is precisely what the meat and poultry industry is being asked to do in the absence of a clear-cut due process provision,” Boyle added.

In its comments, AMI submitted language that might be incorporated into the proposed rules of practice. The language provides the necessary procedural protections for federally inspected plants and helps ensure that the agency is in compliance with the APA.

“There have been several instances since USDA’s new regulations went into effect in which USDA’s actions are violations of the Administrative Procedure Act because they have been taken without notice, without opportunity to correct problems or prove that a company is actually in compliance, and without opportunity to appeal,” Boyle said. “We hope that the language we are submitting in our comments to USDA will help smooth the transition to this new inspection system -- a system for which we petitioned and to which we remain committed.”

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
703-841-2400
jriley@meatinstitute.org
James Ratchford
Manager, Public Affairs
703-841-2400
jratchford@meatinstitute.org

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