jueves, 1 de noviembre de 2012
Investigation: USDA Quietly Eliminated 60 Percent of Foreign Meat Inspections
Agency also lacks foreign audit transparency
Sending U.S. Department of Agriculture officials overseas to inspect meat and poultry plants whose products are destined for American consumers has long been a bedrock of our modern import safety system, but an investigation by Food Safety News found, the number of countries audited by U.S. officials each year has declined by more than 60 percent since 2008.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has also become less transparent. The agency has failed to make audit reports public in a timely fashion and only revealed which countries have been audited in the past two years this week following multiple inquiries by Food Safety News and a blog post by former Under
Secretary for Food Safety Richard Raymond questioning the lack of online records.
With an increasingly global food system – around 17 percent of the U.S. food supply is now imported – U.S. consumers are directly impacted by food safety practices and regulatory systems abroad.
Just last month, a massive E. coli O157:H7 beef recall from XL Foods in Alberta, Canada, affected 2.5 million pounds of beef that had been shipped to U.S. meat processors and grocery chains. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are no known illnesses linked to XL Foods in the United States, but at least 16 Canadians have fallen ill.
The XL Foods recall, the largest in Canadian history, might never have happened if FSIS border inspectors in Sweetgrass, Montana hadn’t found E. coli O157:H7 in multiple samples of the imported beef and raised the issue with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Food safety advocates say the incident highlights the importance of a strong border inspection system, but also raises critical questions about whether FSIS has taken a more hands-off approach in regulating foreign countries sending meat and poultry products to the U.S.
Canadian media reported this month that FSIS was preparing to audit the Canadian meat safety system. The audit had been planned and was not prompted by the XL Foods recall, according to both CFIA and FSIS officials, but the reports noted that FSIS had not audited Canada, a major meat trading partner, since 2009.
Food safety experts and consumer advocates have started wondering: Why aren’t these food safety check-ups happening annually like they used to? Some worry that budgetary pressures are forcing a reduction in the number of audits, or worse, that the reductions are part of an effort to liberalize trade at the expense of public health.