Washington, D.C. – Spurred on by reports that meat companies are abandoning the Australian Meat Inspection System (AEMIS) that USDA’s Inspection Service found to be equivalent, the national advocacy organization Food & Water Watch today asked USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to re-evaluate the equivalency determination for AMEIS. This is the fifth time in two years that Food & Water Watch has made this request.
“Although the European Union has flagged definite problems in allowing meat companies to police their own inspection systems, the USDA has yet to speak out about this very obvious conflict of interest,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “Yet if the result of a privatized meat inspection system in Australian is food that is unsafe to eat, the United States owes it to consumers to revoke the equivalency determination for AEMIS.”
In 2013 alone the US imported over 620 million pounds of red meat from Australia, and that figure is expected to increase by the end of 2014. Since Australia implemented AEMIS, USDA import inspectors have found serious food safety violations, including traces of fecal matter on meat shipments and even positive test results for the pathogen E.coli 0157:H7. An audit of the system conducted by FSIS and posted last month concluded that the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) was not holding Australian meat companies accountable for the contamination that was being found on meat being exported to the U.S. Specifically, FSIS found that DAFF did not require those meat companies that shifted to AEMIS to reassess their food safety plans to ensure that they were not putting contaminated meat into commerce.
“It’s clear that Australia’s privatized meat inspection system is failing consumers, particularly as some plants are asking that the government take up this essential service. With Australia a major trading partner, we need to take every measure possible to ensure that meat from that nation is safe to eat. That can only be accomplished under a government-led inspection system,” said Hauter.
Contact: Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-4905, kfried(at)fwwatch(dot)org.