Test of privatized meat inspection system called inconclusive

The Agriculture Department has not been able to prove that private sector personnel inspect poultry as thoroughly as government employees, according to a new report from the General Accounting Office. Two years ago, Agriculture developed a pilot program to reduce the number of government inspectors stationed on the slaughter line and to transfer some of their inspection duties to personnel employed by meat and poultry plants. Under the program, plant employees perform the majority of initial poultry inspections under the supervision of an inspector from the Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). As part of the pilot project, FSIS inspectors at participating poultry plants examined carcasses to evaluate how well plant employees identified defects, and monitored their use of sanitation equipment. The pilot project, which compared the performance of the new system with that of the old, contained "several design and methodology limitations" that compromised the study's results, according to GAO's report (GAO-02-59). GAO questioned the reliability of data from the pilot project. The results of the project found that the new poultry inspection system worked better than the traditional method, which involves more government employees. GAO criticized Agriculture for not using a control group in the project, failing to randomly select the poultry plants that participated in the study, and not requiring inspection training for plant employees. GAO also criticized Agriculture for allowing plants that repeatedly failed to comply with regulatory requirements to participate in the pilot project.

Both Agriculture and an independent contractor gathered and measured data. According to GAO, the two sets of data produced slightly different results in areas such as the number of poultry plants that met safety standards under the new inspection system. In 1997, Agriculture adopted a new science-based system for identifying where contamination is most likely to occur during food production to improve the effectiveness of the meat and poultry inspection process. The new system, aimed at preventing contamination, makes industry more accountable for the safety of its products, while enabling the government to oversee the inspection process with fewer resources. While GAO supports Agriculture's approach to a new meat inspection system, the "design of this pilot will not permit USDA to reach conclusions about whether the new system of modified inspections performs as well as the traditional system," the report said. Despite the pilot program's inconclusive results, about 70 percent of FSIS inspectors and veterinarians who GAO surveyed believed that the new inspection system was "equal to or somewhat better" than traditional inspections, the report said. If Agriculture decides to move forward with its proposed changes to the inspection program, the agency should ensure that only plants with a good history of regulatory compliance are eligible to participate in the program and provide proper training for plant inspection personnel, GAO recommended. GAO also urged Agriculture to require plants to adopt systems to manage and control their production. Officials from the Agriculture Department agreed with GAO's recommendations.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.