Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter
Washington, D.C.— “A major Australian newspaper revealed today the chaotic state of the country’s meat inspection system after the government tried to privatize it. In an article entitled, “Export Quality Fears Over Meat Inspection Privatisation,” The Australianreported on the growing confusion over how meat is inspected in Australia. The article once again affirms the need to revoke equivalency status for Australian meat and to keep meat inspection public in the United States.
“In 1999, Australia received the blessing of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to adopt an inspection system for U.S. meat exports copied from the HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) that USDA was piloting in a small number of poultry and hog slaughter plants here. The Australian Meat Safety Enhancement Program (MSEP) and HIMP both removed government inspectors from the slaughter lines and turned those responsibilities over to company employees to perform. The U.S. did not receive any beef or mutton exports from Australia for several years due to the controversy in both countries about the privatized inspection model.
“In 2006, Australia decided to pilot the MSEP system in one beef plant that was permitted to ship its products to the U.S. Australia renamed the inspection model the Australian Export Meat Inspection System (AEMIS). Based on the inspection results from that one plant, USDA reaffirmed in 2011 its 1999 decision to recognize the privatized inspection model. In 2012, most of the Australian red meat slaughter facilities had expressed an interest in shifting to this new inspection system. However, that year, the European Union conducted an audit of the new inspection system, and in 2014 released its findings that food safety and meat quality would be compromised by this privatized model since there was an inherent conflict of interest by having company employees, paid by their employers, performing food safety and wholesomeness checks on the meat they were processing.
“Instead of scrapping AEMIS and returning all meat plants to full government inspection, the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry concocted a new scheme. It decided to recognize private, third party entities to supply inspection personnel to red meat slaughter plants — essentially temp services for the Australian meat industry. That has led to new controversies as major Australian meat processors and farmer organizations have questioned the efficacy of such a system.
“According to USDA’s Economic Research Service, the U.S. imported nearly a billion pounds of red meat and red meat products from Australia in 2014.
“Food & Water Watch has been a major critic of both HIMP and AEMIS. We are in the midst of a legal challenge of the New Poultry Inspection System that USDA is implementing to expand HIMP to all poultry plants in the U.S. In 2014 we filed a petition with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to revoke the equivalency determination for AEMIS. We found that there was no scientific justification for making such a determination, due to the growing number of import rejections of meat arriving from Australian plants using the privatized inspection model.
“We once again call on USDA to revoke that equivalency status for Australia’s privatized inspection system, stop the implementation of the New Poultry Inspection System in U.S. plants and end the HIMP pilot in U.S. hog slaughter plants. We also call on the Australian government to stop its efforts to privatize a vital public health function.Too much time and effort is being wasted trying to find a solution to its predicament when the answer is right under its nose – a return to full government inspection.”
Contact: Kate Fried, [email protected], 202-683-2500