|This year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s
Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) celebrates 100 years of
protecting the food supply under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA).
FSIS is the premier public health regulatory agency that ensures the
safety and security of the U.S. meat, poultry and egg products supply.
For the past century under FMIA, FSIS and its predecessors have ensured
that meat products are safe to consume by carrying out continuous,
daily inspections at slaughter and food processing establishments.
The genesis of food inspection in the United States stems from a
diverse array of local statutes originating in the thirteen colonies.
However, the true origin of federal food inspection laws in the
United States came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
When President Abraham Lincoln signed the legislation creating USDA
in 1862, the department’s primary focus was to stimulate food
production by providing seed and agricultural information to farmers
and help them receive a fair price for their crops.
Following the U.S. Civil War, westward expansion and development
of refrigerated railroad cars spurred the growth of not only the
livestock industry, but also meat packing and international trade.
In response to the growing pressure from veterinarians, ranchers,
and meat packers for a unified effort to eradicate livestock diseases
in the United States, President Chester Arthur signed the Bureau
of Animal Industry Act, which created USDA’s Bureau of Animal
Industry (BAI) in 1884, effectively the true forerunner of FSIS.
BAI’s function was to focus on preventing diseased animals
from being used as food. BAI gained further responsibility in 1890
to enforce the newly approved meat inspection act to ensure salted
pork and bacon intended for export was safe. In 1891, the Act was
amended to cover the inspection and certification of all live cattle
for export and live cattle that were to be slaughtered and their
The Growing Meat Packing Industry
However in 1905, the BAI faced its first challenge
with the publication of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.
The ground breaking book exposed insanitary conditions in the Chicago
Meat Packing industry, igniting public outrage, which eventually
led to the establishment of continuous governmental inspection.
President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned the Neill-Reynolds report,
which confirmed many of Sinclair’s horrid tales. In response
to both The Jungle and the Neill-Reynolds report, Congress passed
the Federal Meat Inspection Act in June 1906.
The FMIA established four major sanitary requirements for the meat
packing industry. The Act required mandatory inspection of livestock
before slaughter, mandatory postmortem inspection of every carcass
and set explicit sanitary standards for slaughterhouses. Finally,
the Act allowed the USDA to issue grants of inspection and monitor
slaughter and processing operations, enabling the Department to
enforce food safety regulatory requirements. Following passage of
the 1906 Act, BAI’s Meat Inspection Division hired more than
1,300 inspectors to carry out inspection activities at 163 establishments.
In 1907, BAI employed more than 2,200 inspectors at approximately
In 1910, the Meat Inspection Division established a research center
in Beltsville, Maryland. Seven similar laboratories were later created
throughout the country. These laboratories were responsible both
for developing new testing methods and testing meat and meat products
for foreign substances
Advancing Food Safety Regulations
The 1906 FMIA did not apply to poultry due to low consumer demand
at the time. Prior to 1920, consumers typically bought poultry directly
from a farm house. This practice lasted until 1920 when an outbreak
of avian influenza occurred in New York City, the main hub of poultry
distribution in the United States. As a result of the outbreak,
many localities implemented their own poultry inspection programs.
Demand for poultry products skyrocketed during World War II and
thereafter. To ensure the safety of American troops, the U.S. military
required its purchasing agents to obtain poultry from establishments
that conformed to the military’s sanitation standards. USDA
inspected these establishments to ensure regulatory compliance.
Shortly thereafter, USDA required that poultry processing plants
only purchase poultry from establishments meeting USDA sanitation
requirements. This process laid the groundwork for the passage of
the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) in 1957. The PPIA required
any poultry products that moved in interstate commerce to be continuously
inspected: prior to slaughter, after slaughter, before processing
and, if the poultry was imported, at the point of entry into the
United States. The PPIA imposed additional requirements designed
to protect consumers that mirrored requirements of the FMIA. The
law required that plant facilities be sanitary, that there be inspection
of slaughtering and processing operations and that product labels
be accurate and truthful.
In 1946, the scope of inspection was expanded with the passage of
The Agricultural Marketing Act, which allowed for inspection of
exotic and game animals on a fee-for-service basis. The 1946 Act
also provided USDA the authority to inspect, certify and identify
the class, quality and condition of agricultural products. Grading
and quality identification activities were separated from inspection
activities and assigned to the Agricultural Marketing Service in
1981. Under the AMA, FSIS also provides voluntary laboratory services
that establishments and others may request the Agency to perform.
FSIS provides a range of voluntary inspection, certification, and
identification services under the AMA to assist in the orderly marketing
of various animal products and byproducts.
In 1958, in response to public concerns, Congress passed the Humane
Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA), mandating the humane handling and
slaughtering of livestock that are to be sold to Federal Agencies.
Twenty years later, the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1978
was enacted. This Act amended the Federal Meat Inspection Act of
1906 by requiring that all federally inspected slaughter establishments
adopt humane handling and slaughtering methods.
In 1967, Congress passed the Wholesome Meat Act and a year later
the Wholesome Poultry Products Act. These acts set a minimum sanitation
requirement by which State inspection programs must be “at
least equal in rigor to” their federal counterparts. Federal
standards were now applied to State inspection programs to regulate
products sold in intrastate commerce. Additionally, these acts established
concurrent jurisdiction over adulterated meat products between USDA
and the Department of Health and Human Service’s Food and
The 1970 Egg Products Inspection Act established federal regulatory
authority over the inspection of eggs and egg products. This act
mandated continuous egg inspection in plants that produced liquid,
frozen and dried egg products to be carried out by the USDA’s
Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). Egg hatcheries and packers
were also under inspection but the inspection was not continuous.
In 1995, FSIS received the sole responsibility for egg inspection
within the USDA. The Food and Drug Administration maintained regulatory
authority over shell eggs.
Meat inspection activities have shifted among various USDA program
areas and divisions since the establishment of FMIA. In November
1953, BAI was abolished and the Meat Inspection Division was transferred
to the Agricultural Research Service (ARS). ARS’ Consumer
and Marketing Service was reorganized in December 1965 to include
the MID and Poultry Division.
ARS reorganized in 1971 and transferred meat and poultry inspection
functions to the newly created the Animal and Plant Health Service
in 1972. In March 1977, the Food Safety and Quality Service (FSQS)
was created to perform meat and poultry grading as well as inspection
activities that were transferred from APHIS. In 1981, FSQS was reorganized
and renamed the Food Safety and Inspection Service.
Changing the Way We Do Inspection
For more than 90 years, meat inspection was based on organoleptic
methods, using sight, touch and smell. But in 1993, a deadly outbreak
of the Escherichia coli O157:H7 strain signaled the need
for greater controls based on science to prevent foodborne illness
and protect consumers. FSIS identified E. coli O157:H7
as an adulterant in October 1994, and began a sampling program to
test for the pathogen in federally inspected establishments and
retail stores. These programs have proven highly effective.
The food safety system employed by FSIS to accomplish its mission
has evolved to one in which a science-based framework is used to
identify and prevent food safety risks. This framework is known
as the Pathogen Reduction/Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points
(PR/HACCP) system. PR/HACCP allows for the use of science and technology
to improve food safety in order to prevent the introduction of pathogens
in the products we consume. The implementation and verification
of PR/HACCP plans have led to a dramatic decline in the incidence
of foodborne illnesses.
Using 2004 data, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a
42% decrease in illnesses caused by E. coli O157:H7. In its report on 2004 data
the incidence of infection with pathogens transmitted commonly through foods,
the CDC noted significant declines from the 1996-98 baseline in illnesses caused by E. coli O157 (42%),
Listeria monocytogenes (40%), Campylobacter (31%) and Yersinia (45%).
Dramatic multi-year reductions in illnesses from E. coli O157 meant the United States was below
the Healthy People 2010 goal of 1.0 case per 100,000 persons, according to the CDC.
The 2005 data showed that at 1.06 cases per 100,000 persons, the
United States is still very close to the 2010 goal. The report attributes
the changes in the incidence of these infections in part to the
control measures implemented by FSIS and the food industry, as well
as enhanced food safety education efforts.
Moving Forward in the Next Century
For the past 100 years of service under the FMIA, the vital services
of the Food Safety and Inspection Service has touched the lives of
almost every citizen, every day in America. Today, FSIS is accountable
for protecting the lives and well-being of 295 million U.S. citizens
and millions more around the world. More than 7,600 inspection program
personnel are employed by FSIS who are assigned to nearly 6,000 Federal
slaughter and food processing establishments.
To meet future realities of food safety and public health challenges,
FSIS is moving to a more robust risk-based inspection system that
continues to rely on science-based policies. This flexibility will
allow FSIS to anticipate, and quickly respond to, food safety challenges
before they negatively affect public health. The continued modernization
of the inspection system will enable FSIS to meet ever-changing threats
to public health. FSIS will continue to further enhance and strengthen
the present risk-based inspection system so that we are prepared and
well equipped for food safety challenges in the next century.
May 15, 2006
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