European Union Officially Rejects Australian Privatized Meat Inspection System
Confirms Food & Water Watch’s Previous Information
Washington, D.C. – This past week, the European Commission (EC) posted on its website its final report of the May 2012 audit its staff conducted of the Australian meat inspection system for products destined for Europe and concluded that the privatized meat inspection system called the Australian Export Meat Inspection System (AEMIS), implemented in September 2011, was not in compliance with European Union food safety regulations. In the report, the EC audit staff concluded that by having company-paid inspectors perform post-mortem inspection of animal carcasses was a conflict of interest.
“European regulators have made the right call by rejecting Australia’s privatized meat inspection scheme,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “It’s time that U.S. regulators also reject a food safety regime where companies basically inspect themselves.”
Specifically, the report issued by the EC said AEMIS was “not in line” with the Commission’s regulations because it could not ensure that certifying officers would “have no direct commercial interests in the animals or products being certified”.
In its response to the European Commission audit, the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry informed the Commission that it was going to take some time to implement a new inspection procedure to avoid the conflict of interest issue.
USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), however, granted equivalency status to AEMIS in March 2011 based only on the findings from one Australian beef slaughter plant piloting the new inspection system. FSIS claimed that it had the authority to grant equivalency status to AEMIS based on a pilot project using a privatized inspection model in five hog slaughter plants here in the U.S. called the HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) in market hog slaughter. In May and August of this year, the USDA Office of the Inspector General and the U.S. Government Accountability Office respectively issued highly critical reports questioning the food safety objectives of that hog slaughter pilot project.
In January, July and October of this year, Food & Water Watch sent letters* to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack informing him that meat shipments exported to the U.S. from Australian plants using AEMIS were being repeatedly rejected by USDA import inspectors for visible fecal and ingesta violations at our ports-of-entry. In addition, Food & Water Watch warned the Secretary that it was receiving information that the European Commission was about to reject AEMIS as an inspection system for meat products exported to Europe because of the conflict-of-interest issue. The same concern was expressed by an FSIS auditor who visited the AEMIS pilot plant in 2011, yet his concerns were dismissed by his superiors in Washington.
“Food & Water Watch, again, calls on USDA to revisit the equivalency determination it made regarding AEMIS,” says Hauter. “The determination was flawed since it was based on a pilot project – not the entire meat inspection system here in the U.S. In addition, the pilot project in hog slaughter upon which the equivalency determination was made has never been fully evaluated by FSIS to determine whether food safety is improved by privatizing inspection. As the Europeans have pointed out convincingly, there is an inherent conflict of interest having company-paid inspectors perform food safety functions. Lastly, USDA should withdraw its January 27, 2012 proposed rule to privatize poultry inspection because it suffers from many of the same deficiencies highlighted above.”
* Food & Water Watch letters to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack are available at the following links:
Contact: Darcey Rakestraw, 202-683-2467; [email protected]