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GAO discussed the effectiveness of the Food Safety and Inspection Service's (FSIS) meat and poultry inspection system and the need for changing to a scientific, risk-based system. GAO noted that: (1) the system is inadequate to protect consumers from pathogenic microorganisms; (2) the system suffers from limitations including laws restricting FSIS flexibility to respond to changes in risk, FSIS allocation of considerable resources to activities not related to safety, and FSIS not routinely performing microbial tests of equipment surfaces or raw products; (3) the inspection system is inconsistent, inefficient, and unable to adjust to changing public health risks; and (4) to achieve a scientific, risk-based inspection system, FSIS need to develop and implement a clear and detailed plan for change, obtain a consensus from all interested parties on which changes are necessary, and seek legislative changes to meat and poultry inspection acts.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture 1. The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FSIS, to: (1) develop a detailed strategic and operational plan showing how it intends to achieve a more effective inspection system; (2) work with all interested parties to build a consensus on the design of a new inspection system; and (3) seek needed legislative changes and obtain congressional guidance on the objectives of the meat and poultry inspection system.
Closed - Implemented
FSIS completed a major study entitled "Top to Bottom Review" and has made changes to streamline the inspection system and reduce the level of management to ensure effective implementation and inspection of the July 1996 regulations requiring that meat and poultry plants use Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point systems. In developing the July 1996 regulations, FSIS worked with the interested parties (industry, consumers, inspectors, and the Congress) to obtain consensus on and acceptance of the new regulatory requirements.

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