|Food Safety and Inspection
United States Department of Agriculture
Washington, D.C. 20250-3700
Remarks prepared for delivery by Thomas J. Billy, Administrator, Food Safety and Inspection Service, before the Public Meeting on Interstate Distribution of State-Inspected Meat and Poultry Products, June 16, 1997, Sioux Falls, S.D.
It's a pleasure to welcome you today to this public meeting on the interstate distribution of State-inspected meat and poultry products. This is the first of two meetings that we will hold to solicit your input on this important issue. A second meeting will be held in Washington, D.C., on July 22.
Let me begin the discussion by saying that FSIS believes it is essential to maintain, strengthen, and hopefully expand the State-administered meat and poultry programs. These programs are an integral part of the Federal regulatory system for ensuring the safety of the Nation's meat and poultry supply.
In fact, working in concert with the States is a priority of this Administration and of Secretary Glickman. For instance, we are working with the States to implement Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) in State-inspected plants. We are working with the States on a farm-to-table food safety strategy and are depending heavily on their expertise. We are working with the States on the FoodNet program to provide us with better data on the incidence of foodborne illness. And we recently began a series of training sessions for State and local food inspection agencies on the potential health risks associated with meat and poultry products processed at the retail level and in food service operations. The President's Food Safety Initiative, announced in January, provides us with even more opportunities to work together on food safety.
It is in our best interests to strengthen the State programs, so we take very seriously the concern expressed by some State officials that current Federal laws can potentially threaten the viability of State plants. In fact, it is because of a promise made by the Secretary to the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) last September that we are here today to begin a dialogue. It is important that we involve all stakeholders--not just industry and government--in identifying and addressing the issues that would need to be dealt with to bring about a statutory change.
I also want to be clear that this is not a case of USDA versus NASDA. We are here to share information and discuss the issues in a completely open process.
I appreciate the arguments in favor of interstate distribution of State-inspected products. After all, State plants must be equal to the Federal program, and if they must meet the same requirements, it makes sense that they should reap the same benefits. This is a fairness issue that we need to address in some way.
But, unfortunately, it's not that simple. Fairness is not the only issue we must consider. Many of those opposed to permitting interstate shipment of State-inspected products would probably argue that if State-inspected plants want to ship interstate, all they have to do is come under Federal inspection. After all, they would not have any additional requirements to meet. Or would they? This is an example of an issue we must explore.
It's clear that there are several sides to this debate, and we must fully address the realities that exist before we are at the point of recommending a statutory change. Let me interject a few of these into the discussion.
First, there is concern about the quality of State-inspected plants within the consumer community, and we must address this issue of consumer confidence. I recognize it has been 30 years since State inspection programs have been required to have equal laws and equal enforcement of those laws, but consumer confidence in State-inspected products remains an issue.
Second, there are jurisdictional issues that must be resolved. For example, would there be concurrent State and Federal jurisdiction regarding the denial, withdrawal, and withholding of grants of inspection? Who would have jurisdiction over misbranding and adulteration violations? Would States have separate authority to detain, seize, condemn, and recall products in commercial channels outside plants? Who would be responsible for a multi-state outbreak of foodborne illness?
Third, what mechanism would be needed to resolve any potential trading disputes between individual states in the event that one state bars product from another state?
Fourth is the issue of whether Federal oversight of State programs would need to be strengthened if State-inspected products are authorized to be shipped interstate. Would we need to handle these products like we handle imports, where we have approximately 71 full time inspectors dedicated to reinspecting product at point-of-entry? And where would the resources come from to carry out this additional activity?
Fifth, would these products be eligible for export? We are not aware of any country which would, at this time, accept State-inspected product. And if we decided not to permit these products to be exported, a product integrity issue arises. What controls would we need, to ensure that State-inspected products are not commingled with federally-inspected product?
In addition to these critical issues, we must also consider timing. Most, if not all, State meat and poultry inspection programs have to substantially modify their programs to meet the requirements of the final rule on Pathogen Reduction and HACCP. Because many State plants meet the criteria of being "small" and "very small," full implementation in most of these plants will not occur until the year 2000. If we are to consider repealing the prohibition on interstate shipment of State-inspected products, it must be timed carefully so as not to strain both Federal and State resources.
Thus, it's clear that a number of issues need to be considered. We want comments on whether the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act should be amended to permit distribution of State-inspected meat and poultry products in interstate commerce, and if so, how this should be carried out, given the issues I raised and perhaps others you wish to raise.
Second, we seek comments on how the Agency can enhance its support of, and assist in improving, State inspection programs under our current authority. For instance, is there more we can do in the area of training to ensure consistency between the State and Federal programs? What additional support can Federal agencies provide to State and local agencies that regulate retail and food service establishments?
Please remember that in addition to your comments today, we are asking for your written comments through August 22. In closing, I look forward to a very interesting and lively discussion.
For Further Information Contact:
FSIS Food Safety Education and Communications Staff
Public Outreach and Communications
Phone: (202) 720-9352
Fax: (202) 720-9063
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