Washington, D.C.—Today the consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to review its decision to allow the newly privatized meat inspection system of Australia to be considered equivalent to U.S. inspection. In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the group pointed to repeated discoveries of meat imported from Australia that was contaminated with fecal material and digestive tract contents.
“Documents from USDA and Australian officials reveal that this is not an isolated problem,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “The repeated problems with products coming from Australia in 2012 show that this is a systemic problem and that privatized meat inspection in Australia is not working.”
One letter from a USDA official to Australian food safety officials, summed up the problems in imported products from Australia: “Within the last month, there have been five additional zero tolerance (fecal material/ingesta) POE (point-of-entry) violations in four separate establishments, including one establishment that had repetitive violations during this month (December, 2012), as well as earlier this calendar year.”
Australia is not the only country exporting meat to the United States that is operating a privatized inspection system, and is not the only exporting country with food safety problems. In 2012, there was a recall in the United States for 2.5 million pounds of Canadian beef products that were potentially contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7 produced using a privatized inspection system that the USDA had secretly recognized in 2006.
“U.S. consumers should not be endangered by unsafe imports from Australia or from any other country exporting to the United States,” said Hauter. “It is time for USDA to revoke the equivalency determinations of privatized meat inspection schemes, and to abandon its attempts to privatize inspection here in the United States.”