Washington, D.C.—In an audit report released on May 14, 2013, the USDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) found major problems with the food safety record of plants participating in an inspection pilot program where most of the inspection responsibilities are turned over to company-paid employees. The pilot is part of the HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) in hog slaughter being conducted by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). In the report, the OIG stated:
“We…found that FSIS could not determine whether the goals of a pilot program – Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP)–based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) – were met because FSIS did not adequately oversee the program. In the 15 years since the program’s inception, FSIS did not critically assess whether the new inspection process had measurably improved food safety at each HIMP plant, a key goal of the program…Although HIMP was intended to improve food safety, we found that 3 of the 10 plants with the most (non-compliance reports) NRs from FYs 2008 to 2011 were HIMP plants. In fact, the swine plant with the most NRs during this timeframe was a HIMP plant – with nearly 50 percent more NRs than the plant with the next highest number.”
Even though the OIG found these major deficiencies in the HIMP program, USDA officials have indicated that they plan to expand the privatized model to all swine slaughter plants in the near future.
In 2012, USDA announced a proposal to privatize inspection in most poultry facilities even though serious food safety concerns remain with that proposal. The President’s proposed budget for FY 2014 assumes the implementation of privatized inspection program in poultry.
“All of these privatization schemes should be ended right now until there is a thorough discussion of the impact on food safety of these ill-conceived schemes,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter.
The OIG also found that FSIS is not doing an effective job of enforcing its food safety regulations against companies that have repeated violations. The agency is investing over $141 million in a new information technology system called the Public Health Information System (PHIS) that has not been properly implemented to track these violations.
“PHIS is fraught with problems and we urge the OIG to conduct a top to bottom audit of PHIS and stop wasting taxpayer dollars on a system that is an impediment to inspectors trying to keep our food safe,” said Hauter.
Contact: Darcey Rakestraw, 202-683-2467; [email protected]