New Documents Reveal Dangerous Australian Meat Imports

Country’s privatized inspection system fails to protect consumers

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Food System

WASHINGTON, DC — Documents uncovered by the advocacy group Food & Water Watch show an alarming increase in safety violations of Australian meat imports, in particular mutton, lamb, and goat meat that was contaminated with fecal matter and digestive contents. 

The incidents raise serious questions about the public health risks of relying on Australia’s heavily privatized meat inspection system. 

The documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and reported by Reuters this morning, detail the import refusals that were documented by the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). From 2019 through 2020 the agency’s Public Health Critical Refusals Report found over 19 “zero tolerance” violations in Australian meat shipments. Twelve of these identified fecal matter or digestive contents as the reason for the refusal.

This is especially concerning for several reasons: These imports had already been inspected in Australia. Further, even if the amount of meat found to be in violation is small when considering the size of the lots imported, FSIS only ‘re-inspects’ a small percentage of imports—which means that the documented incidents are likely a massive undercount of the amount of contaminated meat that ends up imported and likely onto consumers’ plates. And the rate of rejections is increasing—from four violations for fecal matter and digestive content in 2018 to close to three times that (11) in 2020. The documents show three violations in just two months of 2021.

Records obtained from the Community and Public Sector Union, which represents meat inspectors in Australia, indicates a “significant rise” in rejections over the past year, and indicates that the USDA has known about these problems. One shocking case includes the allegation that an establishment sought to use scrapers to remove fecal matter from the contaminated carcasses.

“It was outrageous to simply scrape off fecal matter on carcasses, as that would merely spread around the contamination,” said Zach Corrigan, Senior Staff Attorney at Food & Water Watch.  “The USDA needs to revoke its approval of Australia’s inspection system as equivalent.  American consumers simply don’t deserve this fecal matter.” 

In June of 2014, Food & Water Watch submitted a petition requesting that the FSIS revoke its equivalency determination for the Australian Export Meat Inspection System (AEMIS)—which essentially replaces government inspectors with far fewer plant employees—like the Trump administration’s swine slaughter system that is now subject of multiple court cases. Food & Water Watch submitted these documents to the agency to bolster its case against the equivalency determination. USDA has yet to answer the petition.