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Meat and poultry inspections not tough enough, auditors say.

A report from federal auditors urges the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to strengthen its oversight of meat and poultry inspections and expand its testing for deadly bacteria.

The report was the first major assessment of government attempts to improve food safety by legislating Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) programs in 1996. While the report found that food safety officials have taken positive steps under HACCP, it concluded that the program hasn't reached its potential. Further, current activities by USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) fall short of what is "prudent and necessary" to protect consumers, according to USDA Inspector General Roger C. Viadero.

The report found that FSIS has:

  • given processors too much control over inspections.
  • failed to target high-risk establishments.
  • failed to adequately verify inspection of imports.
In addition to establishing specific requirements for meat and poultry processors, the report recommended that FSIS seek authority to impose monetary penalties and other sanctions if food safety violations occur. It also recommended that FSIS do a better job of monitoring test procedures at plants.

The National Food Processors Association (NFPA) took issue with the report, noting that its findings "should by no means be construed as an indication that safety of the U.S. food supply is in question, nor used as justification for returning to the old command and control system of inspection that HACCP replaces."

NFPA indicated that it has submitted a petition asking FSIS to make certain changes in the HACCP regulations that would facilitate improvements in HACCP implementation. NFPA also stated that it does not believe that increased agency authority, such as civil monetary penalties, is necessary. "Rather, FSIS should more effectively utilize the authority it already has," NFPA said.

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