Washington, D.C.— In an effort to ensure the safety of the meat Americans eat, the national advocacy organization Food & Water Watch today petitioned the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) to immediately revoke the recognition of privatized inspection schemes used in several countries that are allowed to export red meat products to the United States. The group’s petition urges FSIS to revoke the “equivalency” status of four meat inspection programs used in Canada, Australia and New Zealand because the programs have replaced government meat inspectors with company employees.
“The basis for FSIS’s equivalency determinations for meat imports is shaky at best,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “But using the U.S. pilot program HIMP (which is only in place in five hog slaughter facilities) to approve meat imports for entire countries using privatized inspection is unconscionable. Moreover, USDA has so far failed to prove that privatized inspection even works.”
Canada, Australia and New Zealand have changed their meat inspection systems, allowing company employees, rather than government inspectors, to conduct food safety inspections. Despite this obvious difference from U.S. inspection programs, which by law require USDA employees to conduct inspections, the agency has declared these new systems as equivalent, and has allowed those products to be imported.
“The risk to U.S. consumers from USDA’s decision to allow privately inspected meat to enter the United States is real,” says Hauter. “In the fall of 2012, XL Foods’ operation in Canada was implicated in the largest meat recall in Canadian history while operating under a high-speed privatized inspection program. Eighteen Canadian consumers were sickened with E. coli 0157:H7 from beef processed at that plant and 2.5 million pounds that had been exported to the United States had to be recalled.”
The petition offers examples of other problems found in products inspected under privatized systems in Australia and New Zealand, including persistent problems with fecal contamination, and actions taken by the European Union to bar meat imports from Australia because of the inherent conflict of interest of having company employees perform food safety inspections.
“USDA should be looking out for U.S. consumers when it evaluates foreign inspection systems,” said Hauter. “Unfortunately, the agency seems to be using the import approval process as a way to weaken meat inspection overall and hasten the arrival of privatized inspection in the United States.”
Read the letter here.
Contact: Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-4905, kfried(at)fwwatch(dot)org.