WASHINGTON (FNS) -- The food industry expressed criticism of a Clinton administration plan to mandate microbial testing of meat and poultry on the grounds that it would not ensure food safety and that it mandates authority the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not need.
Unveiled two weeks ago during a Capitol Hill press conference, the plan would do several things: mandate within two years that USDA issue regulations requiring the testing of meat and poultry products for pathogens, require USDA to establish acceptable levels for pathogens in meat and poultry, give USDA mandatory recall authority as well as traceback authority, and set civil penalties up to $100,000.
The National Food Processors Association called the bill a "potential first step toward comprehensive inspection reform," but expressed concern that it would do little to enhance food safety.
The proposal, NFPA President and Chief Executive Officer John R. Cady said in a statement, "focuses on giving the USDA new enforcement authority for which a need has not been established. New enforcement powers do not automatically improve the safety of the food supply. They certainly do not address the consensus that we need a new meat inspection system based on science."
Instead, the NFPA urged the administration to pursue Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point plans. The administration recently announced plans to mandate that all meat and poultry plants adapt HACCP or quality control plans.
American Meat Institute President J. Patrick Boyle said in a statement that the industry instead prefers another bill, sponsored by Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Texas, that would require the National Academy of Sciences to devise a comprehensive overhaul of government inspection, including legislation, regulations and education. Stenholm is also a sponsor of the administration's bill, along with Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
An AMI spokeswoman called the administration approach "piecemeal." She also criticized it for mandating recalls, noting that the industry has never not voluntarily recalled unsafe products.
The bill also does not specify how microbial testing will be used, the AMI spokeswoman said. For instance, it does not state whether the test results will be used for verification that the food inspection system is working or whether it will be employed to pass or fail meat being inspected. The National Academy of Sciences has reported that microbial testing used to pass or fail meat was not appropriate.
Consumer groups, however, praised the measure. Mark S. Epstein, executive director of Public Voice for Food and Health Policy, said the bill would give Americans safer food, and singled out two components of the measure for praise: the establishment of maximum levels for contaminants and the mandatory recall.