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Billy Disputes News Reports that Inspection Models Project A Hindrance.

News reports which stated USDA is imposing new rules reclassifying as safe for human consumption animal carcasses with cancers, tumors and open sores are inaccurate and false, according to a government official.

In a press briefing, USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service Administrator Thomas Billy said the "notion that we are now allowing product to bear the mark of inspection that wasn't permitted to bear the mark before is a plain misrepresentation of the facts." In fact, Billy said USDA is pilot testing a new system of inspection that raises the bar for food safety and other consumer protection concerns. "Before the HACCP-based inspection models project began, we had not ever measured the accomplishments of the traditional inspection system we have carried out in slaughter plants since 1906."

Under HIMP (HACCP-based inspection models project), "sorting" of carcasses that federal inspectors have traditionally conducted is done instead by plant employees. Inspectors assume a new role of overseeing and verifying plant activities. The HIMP project's goals are to set performance standards for two food safety hazard categories and five categories of "other consumer protections" or OCPs, which include animal diseases, bruises, sores, digested material from the animal, or aesthetic problems such as feathers and oil glands.

This new system "does not mean that defects unacceptable under the traditional slaughter system are now acceptable, as has been reported," Billy said. He said that now that there has been measurement the data indicates plenty of room for improvement. "Too many defects are getting through the traditional slaughter inspection system. This includes defects that are food safety related, and defects that are not food safety concerns but that are unacceptable to the public. Consumers deserve better."

Billy denied that the July 17 release of preliminary data on seven HIMP poultry plants was tied to the recent appeals court decision. The data showed that the new system was able to reduce by 100 percent infectious disease defects in birds that passed inspection. Billy also contested media reports that FSIS was pursuing any permanent changes to its inspection system. "This project is still in the pilot testing stages. We have made no permanent changes, nor have we even proposed permanent changes yet. The reference in the articles that the public has until August 29 to comment on proposed changes related to this project is incorrect."

The meat inspection union, which consists of 7,000 meat inspectors nationwide and is affiliated with the American Federation of Government Employees, is fighting USDA plans to rely on scientific testing of samples of butchered meats to determine the wholesomeness of meat rather than on traditional method of item-by-item scrutiny by federal inspectors. A June 30 appeals court decision accused the HIMP project of turning inspectors into spectators. Most observers note the relationship between government and union meat inspectors has long been a contentious one.
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Title Annotation:Government Activity
Comment:Billy Disputes News Reports that Inspection Models Project A Hindrance.(Government Activity)
Publication:Food & Drink Weekly
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 24, 2000
Words:473
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