January 16, 2018

FSIS Announces Cut in Import Inspections Four Years Later

usdaart-tbThe USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has published a notice in the Federal Register that it made a major change to the way it inspects countries that are eligible to export meat, poultry, and egg products to the U.S. The notice is Ongoing Equivalence Verifications of Foreign Regulatory Systems, Docket No. FSIS-2012-0049.

Food & Water Watch has issued a press release about this action. They say that the announcement and accompanying public comment period regarding changes in this program are “too little, too late,” since the change took place four years ago, at the beginning of the Obama Administration.

Wenoah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said, “It is time for the Obama administration to fund this vital consumer protection program adequately and stop trying to rationalize the ways it has weakened it. Publishing a Federal Register Notice four years after the fact and requesting comments on the new policy is both futile and insulting.”

Until 2009, FSIS conducted “in-depth annual on-site audits of countries that are eligible to export meat, poultry, and egg products to the U.S.” according to the press release. The FSIS system was used as a model for food safety agencies around the world. But in 2009 the government stopped in-person visits and started relying on self-reporting tools. In other words, countries were telling the U.S. government that they were in compliance with USDA food safety and inspection standards, and the U.S. government took their word for it.

You can comment on the Federal Register notice, but the change has already been made. Since the annual audits ended, Canada experienced its largest meat recall in history of beef produced by XL Foods, and the number of rejections of Australian meat products for fecal contamination has skyrocketed. The Obama administration has cut the budget for import inspection at FSIS, even though Congress appropriated the money requested. And the administration now has plans to import processed poultry products from China and South Korea at the same time there are problems with chicken pet food products imported from China.

Hauter said, “we’re not just importing China’s food – we’re importing China’s food safety problems along with it. It’s doubly important to fund our import food inspection programs adequately as more foods from abroad reach our shores.”

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