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.
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