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FSIS Enforcement Policies do not Stop Repeat Offences

21 May 2013

US - An Audit by the USDA’s Office of the Inspector General has found that Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS) enforcement policies do not deter pig slaughter plants from becoming repeat violators of the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA).

As a result, plants have repeatedly violated the same regulations with little or no consequence.

The OIG audit set out to identify areas of risk in FSIS’ inspection of swine plants, evaluate FSIS’ controls over food safety and humane handling, and determine if appropriate enforcement actions were taken against plants that violated FMIA and HMSA.

FSIS inspects over 600 plants that have grants to slaughter swine. For years 2008- 2011, the OIG reviewed enforcement actions taken against these plants and it also conducted site visits at 30 plants.

“We found that in eight of the 30 plants we visited, inspectors did not always examine the internal organs of carcasses in accordance with FSIS inspection requirements, or did not take enforcement actions against plants that violated food safety regulations,” the audit report says.

“As a result, there is reduced assurance of FSIS inspectors effectively identifying pork that should not enter the food supply.”

The OIG also found FSIS could not determine whether the goals of a pilot programme - Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP)- based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) - were met because FSIS did not adequately oversee the programme.

In the 15 years since the programme’s inception, FSIS did not critically assess whether the new inspection process had measurably improved food safety at each HIMP plant, a key goal of the programme.

“Finally, we found that FSIS inspectors did not take appropriate enforcement actions at eight of the 30 swine slaughter plants we visited for violations of the Humane Method of Slaughter Act (HMSA).

“We reviewed 158 humane handling noncompliance records (violations) issued to the 30 plants and found 10 instances of egregious violations where inspectors did not issue suspensions.

“As a result, the plants did not improve their slaughter practices, and FSIS could not ensure humane handling of swine. FSIS concurred with all of our recommendations.”

The OIG said that FSIS needs to develop a strategy to take progressively stronger enforcement actions against plants with serious or repetitive violations.

It added that FSIS should determine what measurable improvement the HIMP programme achieved and its suitability as a permanent programme.

FSIS has also been called upon to provide a plan on how it will minimise reliance on the inspectors’ judgment to ensure they consistently enforce laws.

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