John Munsell, a former meat-processing facility owner, was recently interviewed by Meat & Poultry Magazine about what he learned while conducting interviews of industry players. While Munsell has been a critic of USDA meat inspection practices and policies, he is working for change through FARE, the Foundation for Accountability in Regulatory Enforcement. What he had to say about his findings follows:
Munsell said that judging from the comments his survey elicited, inspectors appear to be as frustrated about the situation as small-plant operators. "Meat-inspection personnel are throwing their hands into the air, as they again are being forced to implement policy, which was stillborn before it left Washington, D.C.," he told M&P. "The OPEER office in FSIS is totally closed to new suggestions, and bulldozes ahead with no semblance of common sense or scientific underpinnings. Agency field personnel must quietly acquiesce to these inane demands, or face diminished career advancement and/or reassignment to remote locations without family."
When he’s talked to researchers and scientists about his concerns, their reaction to current E. coli inspection policy is, he said, "incredulous." "They remind me that the scientific method requires immediate and thorough documentation of every factor potentially influencing the eventual outcome, with no artificial restrictions. Yet when FSIS inspectors collect samples for analysis at USDA labs, the inspectors do not document the origin of the meat," he said. "The official form has no place on which to record the data, and the inspectors are not to document such info. So what happens if the sample comes back positive? Simple: blame it on the downline plant, since the agency failed to record where the meat originated. This is not the scientific method. If our foreign trading partners were aware of this snafu, they’d be justified in blacklisting us."
Meat & Poultry’s coverage of current issues facing USDA are in line with problems FDA is facing in policing the rest of the food supply. In a hearing last week, Michael Taylor testified that FDA’s current food safety plan is not adequate to protect public health. Mr. Taylor outlined five policy elements he thinks FDA needs to take to improve our nation’s food supply in testimony before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
1. Treat food safety as a farm-to-table, system-wide problem.
2 Make prevention of food safety problems the central focus of the system.
3. Recognize that the primary duty for prevention falls on the food industry.
4. Focus FDA on setting and enforcing standards that make the food industry accountable for prevention.
5 Strengthen FDA’s mandate and tools for providing national leadership on food safety and managing a science- and risk-based regulatory program.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony was central to the committee’s session on developing a comprehensive response to food safety, after which they asked for more money dedicated to food safety.