The Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act, and the Egg Products Inspection Act require foreign countries that export meat, poultry, and egg products to the U.S. to establish and maintain systems equivalent to the U.S. inspection system. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for ensuring these products meet all safety standards applied to foods produced in the U.S.
A new report released by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) says that USDA’s FSIS needs to improve its methods for determining whether foreign countries exporting meat, poultry and egg products to the U.S. have equivalent food safety standards. Key findings from the OIG report include:
Exporting countries are not consistently audited in compliance with FSIS policy;
Agency policies and procedures do not contain sufficient guidance for conducting ongoing equivalence verification audits;
FSIS officials do not consistently perform or document procedures when audits are performed;
FSIS has not taken corrective actions in response to previous audit recommendations; and
In the period reviewed, FSIS did not obtain details identifying the date or reason why certified foreign establishments were removed from the program after they were deemed no longer eligible to export product to the U.S.
In short, the OIG report concludes that FSIS equivalency audits in the period reviewed were inconsistent and that the inspection program is vulnerable to weaknesses that increase the risk of contaminated or adulterated food being imported into the U.S.
OIG recommends that FSIS strengthen its oversight of the equivalence process and revise its guidance and management control manual for conducting ongoing equivalence verification audits. FSIS has generally agreed to take corrective actions based on OIG’s recommendations.