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US body queries hygiene status of Australian imported meat

By Nicholas Robinson , 07-Jan-2013

Related topics: Industry & Markets, Safety & Legislation, Livestock, Beef, Pork, Lamb, Poultry, United States, Australia

A letter has been sent by a consumer advocacy group to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in a bid to have them reverse a decision allowing Australian-inspected meat the same hygiene status as US-inspected meat.

Food & Water Watch (FWW) sent the letter last week to USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, asking for the USDA to change its decision to allow the newly privatised meat inspection system of Australia to be considered equivalent to US inspection.

According to FWW, meat imported from Australia had been found to be “contaminated” with fecal material and digestive tract contents on more than one occasion.

The letter to Vilsack explained that the FWW had seen documents from the USDA and Australian officials, which revealed the “contamination” as being a recurring problem. In the letter, FWW executive director Wenonah Hauter said: “The repeated problems with products coming from Australia in 2012 show that this is a systemic problem and that privatised meat inspection in Australia is not working.”

A letter from a USDA official to Australian food safety officials also revealed that, over the last month, there had been five “zero tolerance” point of entry violations, meaning fecal material and/or digestive tract contents were found on meat imported to the US from Australia. The letter said “violations in four separate establishments” had occurred, one of which had happened in a facility that had previous “violations” in the same month (December 2012).

Hauter also pointed out that Australia was not the only country with a privatised inspection system to export meat to the US – and was therefore not the only exporting country with “food safety problems”. He said: “In 2012, there was a recall in the US for 2.5 million pounds of Canadian beef products that were potentially contaminated with E.coli 0157:H7, produced using a privatised inspection system that the USDA had secretly recognised in 2006.”

It was also pointed out by Hauter that US consumers should not be endangered by unsafe imports from any country. He added: “It is time for the USDA to revoke the equivalency determinations of privatised meat inspection schemes, and to abandon its attempts to privatise inspection here in the US.”

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