Federal Regulation of Meat and Poultry Products--Increased Consumer Protection and Efficiencies Needed

RCED-83-68: Published: May 4, 1983. Publicly Released: May 4, 1983.

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GAO reviewed the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service's (FSIS) regulation of processed meat and poultry products. The review was made to determine whether: (1) standards have been developed to help ensure consumers of the uniformity and consistency of products; (2) products are properly labeled; and (3) sampling procedures are efficient and effective.

Products made with mechanically separated meat (MSM) and poultry (MSP) contain some pulverized bone, bone marrow, and certain potentially harmful minerals. Consequently, to protect the public, FSIS established specific standards and labeling requirements on MSM. Although a USDA study has shown that similar health and safety problems exist for MSP, FSIS has not established specific requirements for these products. Because MSM is different from hand-separated meat in that it contains higher amounts of calcium and cholesterol, FSIS established product standards and labeling requirements to prevent MSM products with misleading labels from being sold to consumers. However, similar action has not been taken to protect consumers from products produced with MSP. In a related issue, FSIS has also established standards on the maximum fat and added water that cooked meat sausage products can contain to ensure the products' nutritional quality, but similar standards on cooked poultry sausage products have not been established. To ensure product compliance, FSIS took three types of samples on processed meat products; however, GAO believes that changes could be made in each type of sample to improve efficiency and consumer protection.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FSIS has hired three laboratory investigators to review major discrepancies between its laboratories and the accredited laboratories and has instituted regulations to determine and resolve discrepancies between FSIS and the accredited laboratories.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FSIS, to enforce its procedures on investigating and resolving major discrepancies on split-sample results between FSIS field laboratories and the accredited laboratories.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FSIS reduced verification sampling in plants which have developed good histories of compliance; however, the number of plants are not available. For split sampling, FSIS has reduced its samples in 50 plants from 1 sample in 4 to 1 sample in 8.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FSIS, to reduce verification sampling at plants with partial quality control systems that have good histories of compliance and reduce split sampling at plants that have accredited laboratories with good histories of compliance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: USDA agreed with this recommendation and has initiated action. However, OMB does not want to initiate action to establish additional standards on processed meat and poultry products because of the administration's attitude toward deregulation rather than increased regulation. Because of the OMB disapproval, USDA will not be able to initiate action to establish standards.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FSIS, to establish standards on the maximum fat and added water that cooked poultry and sausages can contain, and appropriate sampling procedures to measure compliance with the standards.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: USDA agreed with this recommendation and has initiated action. However, OMB does not want to initiate action to establish additional standards on meat and poultry products because of the administration's attitude toward deregulation rather than increase regulation. Because of the OMB disapproval, USDA will not be able to initiate action to establish standards.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FSIS, to establish specific standards on MSP and labeling requirements on products made with MSP, as has been done for MSM and products made with MSM.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FSIS, to provide inspectors with timely results on product compliance. This could be accomplished by reducing the backlog of samples that need to be analyzed at the FSIS field laboratories. By reducing the number of samples as recommended above, fewer samples would be analyzed by the FSIS field laboratories and the sample results would be returned to the inspectors faster. FSIS could also encourage plants to use nearby accredited laboratories.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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