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Sens. Lugar, Harkin Promoting Alternative Meat Inspection Systems.

The leading Republican and Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee are asking the General Accounting Officer (GAO) to review a USDA pilot program designed to test alternative methods of meat and poultry inspection. In a letter to GAO Comptroller General David Walker, Sens. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) say their proposed study will help assess the effectiveness of alternative models of inspection. Among other things, the senators want GAO to determine the reliability of data generated from the pilot project and to assess whether these data allow federal agency managers "to reach valid conclusions on the relative effectiveness of pilot projects and traditional inspection methods in ensuring food safety and quality."

Current federal meat and poultry inspection laws require each carcass to be inspected at slaughter by USDA officials. The pilot programs are testing a process that would put USDA inspectors in more of an oversight role. In fact, alternative models of inspection are being tested not only in the United States, but also in Australia and Canada. In all three, the goal is to give industry personnel added responsibility for conducting carcass-by-carcass inspections with government inspectors overseeing these activities. Data generated by the pilot projects then will be reviewed by the appropriate government agencies to determine the effectiveness of the alternative models.

In the United States, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has cast doubt on the legality of the pilot project, with the meat inspectors' union claiming current law requires federal employees to visually inspect each carcass, not merely oversee company inspectors. In hopes of ending the court battle, USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service last week proposed assigning a federal inspector to a fixed position on the line to inspect each carcass. The proposal is intended to keep USDA's microbial testing procedures in place while appeasing the inspectors' union, which claims that jobs and food safety are in jeopardy. (See F&DW Sept. 11.)
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Publication:Food & Drink Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 18, 2000
Words:321
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