Courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture
An internal USDA audit has found shortcomings in the agency’s system for ensuring foreign meat and egg inspections are equivalent to those in the U.S.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspections Service is charged with ensuring meat and egg products imported into the U.S. are subject to equivalent protections against food safety hazards.
Auditors from USDA’s Office of Inspector General said the agency has a “robust system” for scrutinizing countries that apply to export meat and eggs to the U.S. but found fault with its ongoing monitoring of trading partners once they’ve qualified.
The audit said that “without more robust controls” for determining the equivalence of foreign inspections, the FSIS program is “vulnerable to weaknesses that increase the risk of adulterated or unsafe meat, poultry, or egg products being imported into the United States.”
In response to the audit, FSIS said it was making improvements to enact many of the audit’s recommendations, though the agency disagreed with some of the characterizations in the report.
The report claimed FSIS didn’t consistently follow its own policy for auditing countries based on performance assessments, for example.
Under the agency’s system, countries are rated as “adequate,” “average,” or “well-performing,” the highest ranking.
Of the 31 countries allowed to ship meat and eggs into the U.S., 24 were rated as “adequate” but none received annual audits between 2012 and 2015 per FSIS policy, the report said.
Those “adequate” rated nations included Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Poland, Spain, United Kingdom and Uruguay.
The seven countries rated as “average” — Austria, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Nicaragua and San Marino — should have undergone an audit every two years, but only three of them met this requirement, the report said.
No countries were rated as “well-performing.”
Officials from FSIS have been inconsistent in their audit procedures, such as not completing checklists at foreign meat and egg establishments due to time constraints, the report said.
They also had different timeframes for documentation requests from establishments and laboratories, with some asking for 30 days of records while others asked for up to six months of records, according to auditors.
The process for determining whether foreign “individual sanitary measures” were equivalent to those in the U.S. “was not clearly or concisely documented,” the report said.
The audit also faulted FSIS for insufficiently tracking why certain establishments were delisted from the program providing access to the U.S. market.
“As a result, we determined that FSIS may be unaware of potential trends or other concerns identified by an equivalent country,” the report said.