The Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced in 1997 that it would modify its meat and poultry slaughter inspection program to make industry more responsible for identifying carcass defects. Before making the change permanent, USDA developed a model to test whether a prevention-oriented inspection system that uses plant personnel to examine each carcass and USDA inspectors to verify that quality standards are met would continue to ensure the safety of meat and poultry products. USDA's pilot project for chickens had several design and methodology problems that compromised the overall validity and reliability of its results. First, the chicken pilot that USDA designed lacked a control group--a critical design flaw that precluded a comparison between the performance of the inspection systems at those plants that volunteered to participate in the pilot and that of plants that did not participate. Second, the chicken plants that volunteered to participate in the baseline measurement phase of the pilot were not randomly selected, and they did not include plants from all chicken-producing areas or plants of all sizes. Third, the pilot project's methodology did not take into account such variables as seasonal changes and plant modifications that could affect project results. Finally, USDA's pilot project did not include features of the modified inspection systems in Australia and Canada that would be important considerations in ensuring the successful implementation of a modified inspection system nationwide. Notwithstanding the project's design problems, the data themselves do not conclusively demonstrate that modified inspections are at least equal to traditional inspections.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Agriculture||1. If USDA decides to implement modifications to its inspection system, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to phase in the implementation of modified inspections so that only plants with a good history of regulatory compliance are eligible to participate and continue in the program.|
|Department of Agriculture||2. If USDA decides to implement modifications to its inspection system, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct FSIS to require plants to adopt statistical process control systems to manage and control their production and require FSIS personnel to monitor and verify these systems.|
|Department of Agriculture||3. If USDA decides to implement modifications to its inspection system, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct FSIS to, in conjunction with industry, develop a training and certification program for personnel involved in tasks previously performed by federal inspectors and require that only trained and certified plant personnel perform these duties.|
|Department of Agriculture||4. If USDA decides to implement modifications to its inspection system, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct FSIS to consider the merits of adopting suggestions from inspectors and veterinarians at pilot project plants contained in this report, such as how to address repetitive instances of noncompliance with regulatory requirements.|
|Department of Agriculture||5. Further, if in addition to the current pilot project for chickens, USDA decides to conduct similar pilots for other species--hogs, turkeys, or cattle--the Department should take steps to ensure that the pilot's design and methodology are sufficiently rigorous to allow more valid conclusions than in this poultry pilot.|