Overview of the Safe Meat And Poultry Act

Increasing the emphasis on the U.S. food safety system with enhanced inspection techniques will increase food safety. Keith Weller

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for maintaining a safe supply of meat, poultry, and eggs for the United States. In response to growing outbreaks of contaminated food U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, chair of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, Poultry, Marketing and Agriculture Security, has introduced the Safe Meat and Poultry Act.

Gillibrand’s press release includes a reminder the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports one in six Americans will suffer from a foodborne illness every year and of the 128,000 Americans that are hospitalized annually with a foodborne illness, 3,000 die; Clearly unacceptable numbers.

Equally important, facts behind the economic impact are also highlighted citing a University of Florida study showing that annual public and economic costs of foodborne illnesses are estimated to be over $14 billion annually for the top 14 disease causing pathogens. In addition, each year the meat and poultry industry loses over $500 million due to recalled products.

“As I cook dinner for my family most nights, I want to know what I am serving is safe for my children to eat,” Sen. Gillibrand said. “This legislation contains practical measures to ensure no American gambles with their health when purchasing poultry or meat product.

Not only would we reduce foodborne illness, but we also strengthen our nation’s agriculture and food industry.”

The press release provided by Gillibrand’s website highlights key points to the Safe Meat and Poultry Act.

• Create mandatory pathogen reduction performance standards and expand the authority of the USDA to regulate new pathogens, which will make progress towards targeting and reducing dangerous pathogens in the meat and poultry supply.

• Improve consumer notification for recalls of contaminated products.

• Provide whistleblower protection for government and private workers in the food industry to report public health issues and support a more resilient agriculture industry.

• Provide better enforcement penalties, including criminal penalties for intentionally putting unsafe products in the marketplace, and escalating enforcement action for the few bad actors that have a repeated history of serious failures to ensure food safety.

• Safeguard our borders from unsafe or adulterated foreign meat and poultry products by ensuring regular international audits by the Food Safety & Inspection Service.

• Increase the emphasis on prevention throughout the entire food safety system, including for pathogens, chemical residues, and potential contamination.

• Improve consideration given to occupational health and safety to support a safe and sustainable environment in which wholesome products can be produced, inspected, and passed.

This decision comes as a result of the lack of updates to the USDA’s food safety regulations since 1906.

The Safe Meat and Poultry Act is designed to reduce the number of foodborne outbreaks and strengthen the country’s agriculture and food industry by updating the nation’s egregiously outdated meat and poultry inspection and consumer notification system.

Background on the Department of Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)

The Department of Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is in charge of preventing contaminated meat products from reaching consumers, and to oversee appropriate labeling and provision of other consumer information. FSIS also has authority to oversee poultry and egg products via the Poultry Products Inspection Act and the Egg Products Inspection Act. The acts also require any country wishing to ship meat, poultry or egg products to the United States to maintain an inspection program that is equivalent to the United States' inspection. FSIS inspects each meat and poultry food animal, both before and after slaughter.

The FSIS has success in monitoring imported food products as seen within the relationship of China’s poultry exports. The FSIS has a three-part system for both establishing equivalence and ensuring countries continue to meet equivalent standards to those of the United States.

• Once a country is granted equivalence, FSIS will conduct periodic verification reviews and audits of exporting establishments.

• Product undergoes re-inspection at U.S. ports-of-entry to check for proper certification, labeling, transportation damage and general condition.

• Selected shipments will be subject to additional re-inspection procedures, including examinations for product defects and laboratory analyses to detect harmful chemical residues or pathogen testing appropriate for the products. FSIS performs increased import re-inspection activities for countries that are beginning to export product to the Unites States.

If FSIS finds a country failing to meet our food safety standards it will revoke eligibility to export those products into our food system.

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