Report: Lack Of Limits, Oversight, Lets Tainted Meat Out Into Market

A new report issued by the Dept. of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General says that tainted meat is making its way to your dinner plate because of a combination of inter-departmental squabbling and a lack of general oversight by the regulatory agencies involved.

It’s the Food & Drug Adminstration’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) that’s responsible to testing meat for bacteriological contamination and for high levels of residue from metals, antibiotics and pesticides. However, FSIS relies on both the FDA and EPA to set tolerable limits for those residues, and their failure to do so has resulted in meat being sold to consumers that probably should not have been.

Meat Residue Audit

Reads the report:

Together, FSIS, FDA, and EPA have not established thresholds for many dangerous substances (e.g., copper or dioxin), which have resulted in meat with these substances being distributed in commerce.

One very embarrassing situation involves a shipment of U.S. meat to Mexico that was turned away by Mexican authorities after determining it contained higher-than-allowable levels of copper. Since the U.S. sets no limit on copper, there was no way to prevent that beef from being re-sold stateside.

There’s also some finger-pointing going on between the agencies involved:

Although EPA routinely asks FSIS to test for pesticides the three agencies have together determined to be high health risks, FSIS has, for many years, continued to test for only one type of pesticide, citing its limited resources and the fact that EPA has not established tolerances for many varieties of pesticide.

The Inspector General’s report also laments FSIS’ ability to get the recall ball rolling in cases where it does find high levels of contaminants. The report claims that between July 12, 2007 and March 11, 2008, FSIS found that four carcasses were adulterated with violative levels of veterinary drugs and that the plants involved had released the meat into the food supply.

“Although the drugs involved could result in stomach, nerve, or skin problems for consumers, FSIS requested no recall,” reads the report. “Officials explained that when meat enters commerce, the agency must prove that consuming a single serving of the contaminated meat is likely to cause harm” before it can ask the plant to issue a voluntary recall. And if the plant won’t do so voluntarily, FSIS must then find a U.S. Attorney to file a motion in district court.