February 23, 2007
February 23, 2007 - The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will launch a new "risk-based" inspection (RBI) program in 254 processing plants in April, under a plan announced today by Under Secretary for Food Safety, Richard A. Raymond, M.D. The announcement drew immediate expressions of concern by both the meat industry and consumer groups, who have supported RBI conceptually yet said the plan was being rolled out before it was ready.
Plants selected for participation in the program just learned of their mandatory participation hours before the news conference.
"While FSIS proposes to begin the implementation process in April, we fully intend to continue discussing and receiving input on the specific components of risk-based inspection in an effort to continue improving the value of our data and how it is applied," Raymond said, noting that the program would be fine tuned as the data came in.
"While shifting to a risk-based inspection system for processed meat and poultry products makes theoretical sense, the hasty roll-out of this program without affirmative support from its inspectors union, consumer organizations and participating meat and poultry companies could unnecessarily jeopardize consumer confidence in a meat and poultry supply that has improved its safety profile dramatically over the last decade," said American Meat Institutes President and CEO, J. Patrick Boyle.
Boyle urged USDA to slow this process down, solicit additional input and make participation voluntary. He said the industry has worked - and will continue to work - with USDA to develop a program that has support from all parties. Boyle said that previous inspection pilot programs like streamlined inspection systems for cattle and the H.A.C.C.P.-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) used volunteer plants.
"This rush to launch a potentially worthwhile prototype may become a needless public relations and political distraction," Boyle said. "We've learned from experience what strong responses meat inspection changes can ignite. This controversy can be avoided by working deliberatively and inclusively," he said.