WASHINGTON (FNS) -- The chairman of the Senate Agriculture Research Subcommittee plans to introduce a bill this month that would make the Food Safety and Inspection Service an independent agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture with the authority to identify and contain sources of contaminated meat.
"We simply cannot tolerate an inspection system that doesn't go the extra mile to guarantee consumers that the food they purchase is, beyond a reasonable doubt, safe," Sen. Thomas Daschle, D-S.D., said during a subcommittee hearing last month on the USDA's progress in improving meat inspection.
Daschle's plan would make FSIS independent, he said, to "ensure that the actions taken by this important agency are not overshadowed by marketing or promotion activities. The goal is to create an agency whose mission is food safety and nothing else."
His bill also would give FSIS "trace-back authority" to discover the causes of meat contamination. In addition, he plans tougher inspection standards on meat and poultry imports at the port of entry.
J. Patrick Boyle, president and chief executive officer of the American Meat Institute, said the industry prefers to police itself with a food processing system dubbed Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points, which is a system on which the newly proposed federal seafood safety program is based. Record keeping of sources and destinations of animals would be used all along the distribution system from livestock and poultry farms to food service and retail. Also, immunological testing would be used to screen animals for pathogens or disease. In addition, technicians also would be placed in every packing and processing plant to ensure that proper procedures are carried out, he said.
"The bottom line is that industry bears responsibility for and ultimately controls the safety of its products, and it is up to industry to solve this problem," Boyle said.
AMI's proposal is viewed favorably by Daschle's staff as well as consumer groups, but is not considered the answer to the total meat inspection problem.
Carol Tucker Foreman, testifying for the consumer group Safe Food Coalition, said that AMI's inspection system "holds promise" but added that it should be proven to eliminate food-borne illness before it is adopted. "HACCP is not a health and safety regulatory program," she said. "It is a process control."