Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter
Washington, D.C.—“A mere four days after the consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch filed a citizen’s petition with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to revoke the equivalency determinations for privatized meat inspection systems for Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the head of Australia’s meat inspection system sent a letter to FSIS Administrator Alfred Almanza requesting modifications be made to the equivalency determination for the Australian Export Meat Inspection System (AEMIS) – a privatized meat inspection system that FSIS approved in 2011.
“In the June 10, 2014 letter, Greg Read, first assistant secretary of the Food Division for Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF), explains that because of the 2013 decision by the European Union not to recognize AEMIS due to the inherent conflict of interest of having company-paid employees perform food safety inspections, DAFF is proposing that in addition to restoring full government inspection in slaughter facilities, it is also advocating the creation of private independent inspection entities that would be paid by the Australian government to perform meat inspections for products that are exported to the EU and the U.S.
“This letter shows how hasty FSIS was to recognize the privatized inspection scheme in Australia, even ignoring the observations of its own auditor who expressed concerns in 2011 about potential conflicts-of-interest just as the Europeans eventually did. However, this letter also shows the great lengths Australian government officials are willing to go to in order to replace government inspection with a new, convoluted private third-party inspection scheme, even though it would be paid for with public dollars.
“Mr. Read should bring back his highly trained and competent government inspectors. Ever since Australia shifted to AEMIS, the number of import rejections of Australian meat shipments to the U.S. has skyrocketed for contaminants such as visible fecal and ingesta contamination. FSIS import inspectors are doing the job that should have done back in Australia before the meat ever leaves the slaughterhouses. Consequently, U.S. taxpayers are shouldering the cost of the inspection failures from an ill-conceived privatized system in Australia. It’s time for FSIS to admit its mistake and revoke the equivalency determination for AEMIS and the privatized inspection systems the agency has also approved for Canada and New Zealand that are also exhibiting the same problems.
“FSIS should abandon its efforts to privatize poultry and meat inspection here in the U.S. because it does not work. We urge the House of Representatives to support the DeLauro amendment to the FY 2015 Agriculture Appropriations bill that would prevent FSIS from moving forward with its proposed rule to privatize poultry inspection.”
Contact: Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-4905, kfried(at)fwwatch(dot)org.