Food Safety and Quality:

USDA Improves Inspection Program for Canadian Meat, but Some Concerns Remain

RCED-92-250: Published: Aug 26, 1992. Publicly Released: Sep 25, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Food Safety and Inspection Service's (FSIS) procedures and practices for ensuring the wholesomeness of imported Canadian meat, focusing on: (1) Department of Agriculture (USDA) efforts to document that the Canadian meat inspection system is equivalent to the U.S. system; (2) analyzing inspection and rejection data for U.S. and Canadian meat crossing the border; and (3) alternative measures to strengthen USDA import inspection procedures for Canadian meat.

GAO found that: (1) although in its March 1992 summary report and supporting documentation, FSIS determined that the U.S. and Canadian meat inspection systems were equivalent, various differences did exist, but FSIS did not consider them significant; (2) a peer review would have made the equivalency report more credible and the equivalency process less susceptible to future challenges, but scientists and public health experts from outside of USDA did not review the study; (3) Canada generally inspected twice as many U.S. meat products as the United States did Canadian meat products, due to differences between their inspection procedures; (4) rejection data showed no consistent pattern in the differences between the two countries' rejection rates; and (5) USDA and its Canadian counterpart have developed a plan to make the meat import reinspection systems more comparable by adopting suggested alternative measures for strengthening USDA import inspection procedures, and have agreed to harmonize reinspection frequency and to ensure the equivalency of other procedures.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Agriculture disagrees with the need for peer review. GAO believes that it is necessary to improve consumer confidence and avoid negative consequences of future food safety incidents involving imported meat. NAFTA implementation could raise more questions about foreign meat inspection systems and, in turn, support the concept of a peer review. The E-coli food poisoning outbreak that started in the western states and continued into 1994 supports the prediction that future food safety incidents could cause serious concern among consumers, which USDA could alleviate, to some extent, with a scientifically based peer review. No action is anticipated by USDA.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should seek a peer review of the equivalency determination process, including how best to assess foreign monitoring programs for animal drug residues, using FSIS review of the Canadian inspection systems as a test case.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FSIS has established a tracking system to control Canadian meat imports prior to reinspection at U.S. facilities.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should ensure proper controls over meat imports before reinspection as FSIS implements destination inspection for Canadian meat.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture


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