Imported Meat and Livestock:

Chemical Residue Detection and the Issue of Labeling

RCED-87-142: Published: Sep 30, 1987. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 1987.

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GAO reviewed the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) effectiveness in detecting prohibited chemical residues and foreign matter in imported meat items and live animals.

GAO found that: (1) although the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) developed an annual plan in 1986 which included 406 chemicals for consideration and 100 for testing, it lacked detailed, current information on the chemicals used abroad; (2) FSIS plans to require foreign countries that want to export meat to the United States to submit an annual residue testing plan to USDA; (3) because FSIS met its 1986 testing quotas by May 1, 1986, it did not test meat imported after that date for the full range of residues; (4) FSIS did not always remove from the U.S. food market the remainder of lots that showed chemical violations; (5) in 1986, about 60 percent of imported live animals came from Mexico, which has been ineligible to export meat to the United States since 1984 because of chemical residues; (6) FSIS does not have current information to adequately test for chemicals used in Mexico; and (7) mandating quality control reports and country-of-origin labelling of meat could result in increased food costs and may constitute a nontariff trade barrier.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: If chemical use in foreign countries is identified, FSIS should: (1) evaluate the chemicals to determine which ones pose a potential hazard; (2) develop methods for their detection if methods are lacking; and (3) include them in the import plan for testing.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture: Food Safety and Inspection Service

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FSIS is reviewing country responses to the Residue Control Program Questionnaire. In effect, this is a continuous process and USDA can never fully complete action. Therefore, this recommendation should be closed at this point.

    Recommendation: If such a risk assessment indicates an unacceptable risk for any country, FSIS should take steps to ban live animal imports from that country until the foreign government can provide assurance that animals for export to the United States are free of prohibited residues.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture: Food Safety and Inspection Service

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FSIS does not intend to adopt a formal risk assessment process. However, actions taken on other recommendations should help to alleviate the situation. Therefore, this recommendation should be closed at this time.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FSIS, to determine whether live animals entering the United States present an unacceptable risk to consumers. Such a risk assessment should consider: (1) the source of live animals (country of origin and location within country); (2) livestock production and marketing practices in pertinent foreign countries, including controls over and use of animal drugs and other chemicals; (3) residue testing results from domestic plants where the imported animals are likely to have been slaughtered and whether those results are different from those at plants that do not slaughter imported animals; and (4) if appropriate, special test programs to determine whether imported animals have unacceptable chemical residues.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Mexico has been recognized as eligible to export meat to the U.S. Use of chemicals and control information is now available to evaluate risks associated with live animal imports. FSIS does not believe a formal risk assessment is necessary under present circumstances.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FSIS, to systematically assess the status of methods for detecting harmful chemicals in processed meat and muscle tissue to provide a basis for deciding on the additional research needed to develop more effective methods.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Although USDA has not completed all action on this recommendation, it has substantially complied with the recommendation. Since it is a continuing process, USDA can never be expected to complete all work. Therefore, GAO believes that the recommendation should be closed at this point.

    Recommendation: To develop an import residue testing plan that is sensitive to conditions regarding chemical use in foreign countries, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FSIS, to implement a continuous, systematic effort to identify and evaluate chemicals in use abroad that are not used in the United States.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FSIS is reviewing and identifying chemicals through country responses to residue control program questionaires. USDA believes that this will require several more years to complete. Since this is ongoing and GAO recommended a continuous effort, GAO believes that this action essentially addresses the recommendation and that the recomendation should be closed out.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FSIS, to update risk profiles of countries eligible to export meat products to the United States to better ensure the safety of imported meat.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Risk profiles are being systematically updated. Since this is a continuing process, the recommendation should be closed at this point.

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