USDA’s FSIS Announces New Approach to Food Safety Audits of International Meat Suppliers
Roughly 3 billion pounds of beef and pork were imported into the U.S. during 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
That equates to 8 to 20 percent of total U.S. meat supplies coming from international sources.
With this much meat being imported into the U.S., one might wonder how our federal government ensures the safety and quality of such products.
In fact, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recently announced a new approach to how it will conduct food safety audits of countries that ship meat into the U.S. Surprisingly, the policy change announced by the agency was actually made three years ago.
What exactly is the change in policy?
Prior to this particular policy change, FSIS would assess other countries’ food safety systems to ensure that they were “essentially equivalent” to the program implemented here in the U.S. by performing on-site food safety inspections on an annual basis.
But now, FSIS quietly eliminated 60 percent of in-country audits and instead has been relying heavily on countries to self-report data.
This new three-part approach to annual performance assessments includes reviewing past audits, document reviews and port-of-entry re-inspection reports. The process is aimed at helping FSIS identify countries’ abilities to self-monitor and ultimately rate them in one of three ways:
- “Adequately Performing” – country will receive audits every year;
- “Average Performing” – country will receive audits every two years; or
- “Performing Well” – country will receive audits every three years.
This does not mean a country deemed as “Performing Well” will not receive audits in between scheduled inspections, should an issue arise. FSIS will still perform “For Cause” audits if there are concerns regarding the safety of food imports from a particular country.
Why audit less?
It’s simple; resources are limited at USDA.
Cutting back on the number of in-country audits will help reduce the costs of food safety programs and lead to a better allocation of resources – the agency states.
Still, others argue that a deduction in foreign audits might lead to an increased chance of contaminated meat entering our nation’s food supply. And the delay in announcing the updated policy has only added fuel to the fire, especially given the fact that there was no time for public comment on the revisions.
But now, FSIS has announced that it will be accepting public comment on the new equivalence verifications of foreign facilities rules through March 26, 2013.
How do you feel about FSIS’ delay in announcing the foreign audit policy change? Do you think the annual performance assessments will adequately assess a country’s ability to monitor its own food safety? Your comments are most welcome below.
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