Improved Management of Import Meat Inspection Program Needed

RCED-83-81: Published: Jun 15, 1983. Publicly Released: Jun 15, 1983.

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GAO reviewed the Department of Agriculture's administration of its import Meat and Poultry Inspection Program.

GAO found that, at the 10 highest-volume ports, where variances in the quantities of meat rejected ranged from 0.1 to 1.5 percent, procedures for controlling, sampling, and inspecting meat products differed because of: (1) regulations and instructions which were generally outdated, unclear, and inconsistent; (2) a lack of adequate supervision and training of inspection personnel; and (3) work-load imbalance. The Automated Import Information System compiles inspection-result histories for countries and foreign plants. These histories are the basis for assigning the scope and extent of inspections. GAO found that, in some ways, regulations and instructions do not conform with the system's revised procedures. GAO and Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) officials found that most inspectors cited the need for periodic training and better communication between inspectors from different ports as a way of standardizing inspections. Despite the apparent improvement in plant conditions, program changes are needed to better ensure that products are imported only from countries and plants meeting U.S. requirements. Recognizing the need for increased attention to foreign programs' regulatory comparability, FSIS is developing a new systems approach for approving and monitoring foreign inspection systems. GAO believes that the new system should improve FSIS ability to assess these risks.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 1988, FSIS issued a directive on Examination Procedures for Determining the Condition of Canned Product Containers. These procedures apply to the domestic program only. As of June 1989, FSIS was studying the directive's effectiveness in the domestic program and the feasibility of adopting similar procedures for the international program.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct FSIS to develop criteria for distinguishing among minor, major, and critical defects in canned packaged meat products.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. 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 FSIS to authorize, through regulations, skip-lot sampling procedures for boneless manufacturing meat.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. 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 FSIS to prescribe the procedures for inspectors to use in handling skip lots.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Although FSIS took some action on this recommendation, it does not agree with the major concern that inspectors supervise the breaking of country-of-origin seals on refrigerated containers. Since FSIS will not take action on the matter, no further follow-up is necessary.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct FSIS to prescribe procedures for adequately and consistently controlling import meat products and inspection samples.

    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 FSIS to provide guidance to inspectors on the correct procedures for selecting samples shipped in combination bins.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: FSIS decided to maintain its policy of zone inspection, but it will modify its defect criteria based on the results of an ongoing study. Modifying the defect criteria used will not satisfy the recommendation to include defects outside a predetermined portion (zone) of the product.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct FSIS to establish new sampling techniques for wholesale cuts and carcasses which do not limit inspection to a predetermined portion of the product for major and critical defects.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  7. 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 FSIS to emphasize to import inspectors that foreign inspection certificates be prepared in accordance with FSIS-prescribed procedures.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  8. 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 require that all inspection personnel be provided periodic refresher training and establish a structured on-the-job training program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  9. 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 assign an inspector-in-charge to all major ports, with appropriate written descriptions of responsibilities and duties, including a systematic review of case files.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The work measurement study was discontinued because of the reorganization of import meat inspection activities. Import office inspectors are now under direct control of the Import Meat Inspection Office and, since the office no longer has to rely on another office for staffing, the need for work measurement standards may now be of less importance.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct FSIS to develop work measurement standards to use in ensuring that ports are adequately staffed by full-time and/or temporary inspectors.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  11. 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 FSIS to revise the meat and poultry inspection manual to specify the procedures foreign program officers are to follow in reviewing plants.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  12. 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 FSIS to develop more uniform objective criteria for use in reviewing and rating foreign plants.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  13. 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 FSIS to revise the foreign plant review form to better identify problems for future follow-up.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  14. 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 emphasize to foreign inspection system officials that they are responsible for identifying and correcting deficiencies and, if warranted, delisting plants, and to request that they advise FSIS of the reason(s) for each delistment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  15. 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 revise the meat and poultry inspection regulations, the manual, and other written instructions to provide clear, concise, and up-to-date guidance on the procedures import inspectors are to use in controlling, sampling, and inspecting products offered for entry.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  16. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Action was completed in early 1988. FSIS has instituted an automatic data management system which provides information on frequency of foreign plant inspections as well as the results of those inspections.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct FSIS to develop a more systematic and objective way of compiling the results of plant reviews, using a statistically selected sampling of plants as a basis for apprising management of the overall effectiveness of foreign inspection systems in ensuring compliance with U.S. requirements. Periodic reviews of plants outside the sample should be made at least annually for considering such factors as volume of exports and rejections at U.S. ports. Plants not exporting to the U.S. should not be reviewed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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