Food Safety:

Procedures for Inspecting Canadian Meat Imports

T-RCED-97-121: Published: Apr 2, 1997. Publicly Released: Apr 2, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the U.S. system for inspecting Canadian meat imports, focusing on the: (1) Food Safety and Inspection Service's (FSIS) system for selecting and inspecting imported meat products; (2) availability of equipment at import inspection facilities along the Canadian border that would enable the full inspection of meat shipped in trucks; and (3) effectiveness of FSIS' new procedure to verify that carcass samples selected by Canadian inspectors are representative of the entire shipment.

GAO noted that: (1) FSIS considers the eligible foreign countries' inspection system, not its own reinspection at the port of entry, to be the primary control for ensuring that imported meat products meet U.S. standards; (2) as a check on the foreign countries' inspection performance, FSIS requires that every shipment of imported meat, including shipments from Canada, receive some level of U.S. inspector review at the border; (3) all Canadian meat shipments receive a visual check for container damage and inaccurate labeling or paperwork; (4) further, a sample of Canadian meat shipments (about 11 percent of total Canadian meat shipments in calendar year 1996) receive a more intensive examination; (5) the sampling approach used to perform this more intensive examination varies by the type of product being shipped; (5) for meat shipped in containers, such as boxed ground beef or palletized bins of canned corn beef, FSIS inspectors unload the entire shipment and select and examine a random sample of the product; (6) for meat carcasses, FSIS inspectors select samples from the back of the trailer because the existing inspection facilities lack the equipment needed to unload an entire shipment of meat carcasses; (7) to facilitate its sample inspection of meat carcasses, starting February 16, 1997, FSIS began requiring that Canadian inspectors located at Canadian slaughter plants select a random sample of carcasses and place them at the back of the trailers in which they are to be shipped; (8) the FSIS import inspector at the border will then examine the Canadian-selected samples; (9) to verify that the Canadian sample selection is unbiased, FSIS inspectors also examine at U.S. destinations, about 15 carcass shipments per month that were not examined at the border; (10) for these verifications, FSIS inspectors randomly select a sample of carcasses from the shipment, examine that sample and the Canadian-selected sample and compare the results of the sample examinations; (11) these data will be accumulated over time to verify that the Canadian samples are representative of entire shipments; and (12) while little experience has been gained since the new procedures took effect in February, an FSIS pilot test of the procedures found no evidence of bias in Canadian sampling.

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