The Pew Charitable Trusts and Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) have released an October 2014 report urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to reevaluate its current meat and poultry inspection system. Seeking to identify innovations that could better protect consumers, Meat and Poultry Inspection 2.0 compares U.S. regulations to those used in Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Sweden. It also examines scientific assessments undertaken by the U.K. Food Standards Agency and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) as part of their efforts to modernize food safety regulations.
“Modernizing government inspection of meat and poultry plants would focus resources on the food safety risks posed by bacteria and other microbiological and chemical hazards, and away from some human and animal diseases, such as tuberculosis and brucellosis, that have been successfully controlled in most developed countries,” argues the report. “However, out of a concern that modernizing government inspection could have unintended consequences, several countries, as well as the European Union, have begun the process by first commissioning scientific assessments by expert bodies that examined the impact of potential changes to their current inspection systems.”
Although all five countries surveyed for the report apparently “conduct carcass-by-carcass inspection of red meat at slaughter” and “require inspectors to be present in slaughterhouses during slaughter,” “only New Zealand and the Netherlands conduct daily processing inspections similar to those required in the United States.” In addition, EFSA apparently found that “many post-mortem inspection practices do not contribute to controlling pathogens of human importance,” instead proposing that regulations adopt “standardized metrics such as the prevalence of a hazard at different stages of the food chain or indirect measures of the hazards that correlate to human health risks.”
To this end, Pew and CSPI call on USDA to invest in similar expert assessments, improve its data collection practices and consider “incorporating food chain information and comprehensive data management and review into its meat and poultry inspection system.” As the report concludes, “While many of these innovations are relatively new and data have yet to be collected and analyzed to determine their impact on foodborne illnesses, they represent models with the potential to improve public health and better target regulatory resources.”