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Statement on Audit Report: Food Safety and Inspection Service National Residue Program for Cattle

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Attribute Statement to AMI Executive Vice President James H. Hodges

 “The safety of meat products is the meat industry’s number one priority.   We are subject to more federal rules than any other industry in America and this has helped make our meat supply the envy of the world.  

While recent news reports have generated some unsettling headlines, the fact is that USDA residue monitoring data overall show that plants are in compliance with residue limits.  

In a new report, USDA’s Inspector General (IG) identified several hundred violations – a very low number when you consider that the industry process approximately 30 million cattle per year.  

During routine monitoring, USDA tests target tissues such as the liver and kidneys because those tissues tend to be the “filter” for compounds.  Test results from these tissues serve as an indicator that there may be an issue with muscle tissue.  However, just because samples from these organs test positive does NOT mean that the residue is in the meat.   In fact, the tolerance level is set so that it has a many-fold safety factor built in. That, coupled with the fact that muscle tissue does not normally contain residues because the compounds settle in certain tissues, provides a reassuring fact about beef safety.    

The problems identified by IG report seemed to be concentrated among a small number of “repeat violators” who supplied dairy cows and bob veal to some packing plants.   While the findings understandably may raise concerns among consumers, the violations identified represent a miniscule portion of the beef supply.  Rest assured that when meat packers purchase livestock, they expect the animals to be in compliance with federal requirements.  The release of USDA’s Inspector General Report on the National Residue Program for Cattle has raised understandable questions and concerns.  We are pleased that USDA is clearly taking action in response to the Inspector General’s constructive criticisms.

In the U.S., there currently is no uniform National Animal Identification System.  While AMI has long supported implementation of a mandatory animal identification system, to date, no such system exists.   This report underscores the need to implement comprehensive livestock trace back procedures so that when problems are detected by USDA in beef packing plants, those animals may be traced back to their source and those responsible for creating the illegal residues, in turn, can be held accountable.  This type of accountability will help ensure that the withdrawal periods established by the Food and Drug Administration are met.

We also believe that it is essential to change Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration rules to permit packers to withhold payment to producers who market animals that violate residue limits.   These kinds of financial penalties will incentivize compliance with federal rules.

 We encourage USDA, university extension staff and producer organizations to intensify efforts to educate producers about regulatory standards and the importance of compliance.   It is also essential for livestock dealers and auction houses to inform sellers of livestock that selling animals containing illegal residues is a criminal offense.

 We benefit by meeting customers’ expectations for safe food.  We recognize that this report is unsettling, and we are committed to working with the beef supply chain to continue to earn consumers’ confidence.”


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