USDA: Media Is Misinterpreting Report on Poultry Inspection Reforms

Keith Weller/USDA

New poultry and hog inspection procedures designed to improve efficiency and food safety cannot be reliably evaluated without better data, auditors concluded in a report released Wednesday, prompting an Agriculture Department official to publish a contrasting view.

The Government Accountability Office found that the data the Food Safety and Inspection Service is using in three pilot programs for the new procedures is in some cases 10 or 20 years old. USDA, which has been running the pilots for 15 years, performed a cost-benefit analysis and in January 2012 published a proposed rule to implement the new procedures without addressing the lack of timely and comprehensive data.

USDA “has not thoroughly evaluated the performance of each of the pilot projects over time even though the agency stated it would do so when it announced the pilot projects,” the auditors found, noting that some of the data sets were “snapshots” covering just two years and that no data were gathered at some of the smaller young chicken and turkey plants.

GAO did identify strengths in the program as cited by 11 stakeholder groups representing industry, labor, consumer advocacy and animal welfare interests. But it also said it had “identified weaknesses including that training of plant personnel assuming sorting responsibilities on the slaughter line is not required or standardized and that faster line speeds allowed under the pilot projects raise concerns about food safety and worker safety.”

The report was requested by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who chairs the Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, Poultry, Marketing and Agriculture Security. On Wednesday, she sent a letter to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs saying the proposed rule was “not formulated on a strong scientific basis” and asked that it be delayed and re-evaluated.

GAO recommended that the department gather the missing data and publicly disclose any limitations, and program managers agreed.

But on Wednesday, Al Almanza, administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service, published a critique of the way the GAO report was being portrayed in the news media. “While an initial scan of the press coverage may lead you to believe that GAO discredits this proposal, that is not the case. GAO gave [the pilot inspection reforms] a thorough review and made just two recommendations, both of which FSIS is already working to fulfill,” he wrote.

“GAO’s report also assumes that the basis for moving forward with this proposal is to improve efficiency and save taxpayer dollars,” he said. “Although it does accomplish both of those things, as FSIS made clear to GAO, this proposal is first and foremost about making food safer.”

Almanza said the new system will prevent “at least 5,000 more foodborne illnesses annually” and has been backed by an independent panel of experts. The data show, he added, that “fecal material, the primary avenue for pathogen contamination, appears about half as often” in the pilot inspection plants as in the non-pilot plants, and that inspections for fecal material are four times as frequent under the reformed system. In addition, the Salmonella rate is 20 percent lower in plants using the pilot reforms.

“If finalized and implemented broadly, this new inspection system would enable FSIS to better fulfill our food safety mission,” he wrote. “Nothing in the GAO’s report contradicts this basic fact.”

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

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

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


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