|Food Safety and Inspection
United States Department of Agriculture
Washington, D.C. 20250-3700
The Honorable Albert Gore, Jr., President
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Mr. President:
I am transmitting by this letter a draft bill "To reform the State inspection of meat and poultry in the United States, and for other purposes," for the Congress consideration. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that it be enacted.
This draft bill is an important part of the Clinton Administrations initiative to improve food safety for American consumers. The key objective of the bill is to ensure that all meat and poultry products produced in the United States are inspected under a seamless system enforcing a single set of requirements and eliminating the prohibition on the interstate shipment of State-inspected meat and poultry products. Additionally, the bill is designed to improve consumer confidence in the safety of the food supply, increase the viability of small meat and poultry establishments, ensure the viability of State meat and poultry inspection programs, and ensure that meat and poultry inspected by State inspection systems can also be accepted in international trade as an ingredient or alone.
Specifically, major provisions of the draft bill would amend the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) (21 U.S.C. 601 et seq.) and the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) (21 U.S.C. 451 et seq.) to:
require State meat and poultry inspection programs to enforce Federal inspection requirements under new cooperative agreements with the Secretary;
repeal current authority providing for State meat and poultry inspection programs enforcing requirements "at least equal to" Federal requirements;
require State-inspected meat and poultry to be marked with the official mark of Federal inspection;
allow for the interstate shipment of meat and poultry products produced at plants operating under State grants of inspection; and
provide the Secretary the authority to reimburse up to 60 percent of a States cost of meeting Federal inspection requirements.
Amendments to the FMIA in 1967 and the PPIA in 1968 mandated Federal oversight of the State meat and poultry inspection programs and established the statutory prohibitions on the distribution of State-inspected meat and poultry products in interstate commerce. Currently, 25 States have USDA-approved inspection programs covering about 3,000 slaughtering and processing plants. These plants account for about 7 percent of all meat and poultry products produced in the United States, but more than one-third of all meat and poultry plants under Federal or State inspection. USDAs Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) reimburses the States for 50 percent of the cost of operating "at least equal to" programs, the maximum level allowed by current statutes.
The draft bill provides for a one year transition period during which existing State inspection programs will have the opportunity to transition from "at least equal to" programs to programs enforcing the same Federal requirements enforced by USDA. State programs not making the transition would be taken over by USDA. The transition period would begin on October 1, 2001, and end on September 30, 2002. State programs enforcing Federal requirements, and recognized as such in new cooperative agreements with the Secretary, will use the official mark of Federal inspection on products. These products will be eligible for shipment in interstate commerce. The States will retain the option of also using the State mark of inspection.
By October 1, 2001, States will have over a full years experience operating Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points-based inspection programs. By this date, USDA will have had sufficient time to conduct a comprehensive review of all State programs and to extend the Federal microbial testing program to include samples from products produced at State-inspected plants. The comprehensive reviews and testing program are provisions of the bill designed to maintain consumer confidence in the safety of the food supply and to ensure our trading partners of the integrity of the seamless national program. This is important because the products produced at State establishments will bear the official mark of Federal inspection and will be eligible for export.
There has been some controversy both among consumer groups and our international trading partners about what constitutes "at least equal to" inspection standards. Moving from a statute that requires States to operate "at least equal to" Federal inspection programs to a seamless system where national requirements are enforced at all meat and poultry plants will bolster consumer confidence in the meat and poultry supply. Any debate on what constitutes "at least equal to" will be put to rest. Federal microbial testing of both Federally- and State-inspected products, providing a quantitative measure of food safety gains, will have the effect of bolstering confidence in the national inspection system.
Interstate commerce may provide new markets for many very small State-inspected plants, particularly plants located near State or even international borders or catering to niche markets. This will help ensure the viability of these plants.
At the same time, it is important that the credibility of the entire meat and poultry industry of the United States be safeguarded, both domestically and internationally. For this reason, efforts were made to assure that the standards required of the States will make the product acceptable to our international partners, whether the inspected meat and poultry would be used as an ingredient in further processed product for export, or exported as inspected to neighboring countries or to niche marketers.
State programs have developed specialized experience in conducting inspection programs for primarily very small plants and the State programs may see an influx of applications for inspection when State inspected products become eligible for interstate shipment. Thus, the proposed bill includes two provisions to ensure the stability of the State programs. First, States may limit the maximum size of plants eligible for State inspection and second, the bill proposes raising the limit on the Federal reimbursement to States to up to 60 percent of the cost of operating their inspection programs. The Secretary will consider the burden placed on the State programs as a result of the draft bill in calculating the budget request for Federal reimbursement to the States.
USDA will need up to $2 million beginning in FY01 to conduct the initial and subsequent comprehensive annual reviews of State programs. Up to $8 million in additional funding beginning in FY02 may be needed to increase the reimbursement to State inspection programs above the current 50 percent cap if the Secretary determines there is an increased burden on State programs due to the bill.
The Office of Management and Budget advises that, from the standpoint of the Administrations program, there is no objection to the enactment of the enclosed draft legislation.
I am sending an identical letter to the Speaker of the House.
For Further Information Contact:
FSIS Congressional and Public Affairs Staff
Phone: (202) 720-3897
Fax: (202) 720-5704
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