USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has published its final rule allowing FSIS to share a firm’s distribution list with state and federal agencies whenever its meat products are recalled. The rule will take effect July 31, 2002. The move is significant because a product distribution list is a proprietary, confidential record of where and when a company’s products are shipped. When a product is recalled, distribution lists are used to locate the recalled products and verify that they are removed from commerce.

In the past, FSIS could not release distribution lists to state and federal agencies because that would have made the information public under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Under FOIA, once information is made public, it must be released to anyone who requests it, including the general public and industry. FSIS acted out of concern that firms would fight to withhold the information if they believed it might become public. Under the new rule, release of this information to state and federal government officials does not result in the information being made public. In order to receive the distribution lists, state agencies must provide a written statement verifying their authority to protect the information from public disclosure, and state and federal agencies must provide a written agreement stating that the information will not be disclosed without the submitters’ permission.

No ban on livestock ownership for meat packers

The final version of the 2002 Farm Bill that emerged from a contentious House-Senate Conference Committee did not contain language banning meat packers from owning cattle and hogs as industry leaders feared. The Senate-sponsored ban was stripped from the legislation in a compromise bill that increases U.S. agriculture spending by $73.5 billion over the next ten years. Despite that victory, Patrick Boyle, president and CEO of the American Meat Institute, said he is disappointed with other provisions of the bill requiring country of origin labeling for meat, fish, produce and peanuts, and defining U.S. meat products as coming only from animals born, raised, and slaughtered in the U.S. Boyle predicts the new mandate will cost the U.S. food industry an extra $1 billion a year.

OSHA repetitive motion injury guidelines change course

OSHA has introduced a new plan designed to reduce workplace injuries caused by repetitive motion with new regulations calling for a combination of employer guidelines, workplace education and ergonomic inspection teams. The federal agency has already begun developing industry guidelines, which will be released later this year. The approach is starkly different from the ergonomic rules handed down by the Labor Department in the waning days of the Clinton Administration. This time, industry seems more receptive.

“After reviewing the OSHA ergonomic plan outline, we are guardedly optimistic that the federal government is taking a more common sense approach to avoiding such injuries than earlier attempts,” said Clay Detlefsen, director of environmental and worker safety issues for the International Dairy Foods Association. Ergonomic measures are designed to prevent on-the-job employee injuries from carpal tunnel syndrome, contact stress or repetitive motions in the workplace. The rules have become a hot political issue since November 2000, when the Clinton Administration issued broad ergonomic regulations placing new requirements on employers. A coalition of business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, participated in the efforts to block implementation of the regulations, which many considered too vague and cumbersome. Congress voided the Clinton Administration regulations in early 2001. Until this recent OSHA announcement, it was unclear whether OSHA would move forward with any ergonomic-related efforts.