FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 11, 2001
OAKLAND, CA – As expected, a three-judge panel on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled to affirm a District Court decision that USDA does not have authority to suspend inspection at a meat grinding facility for failure to meet the Salmonella Performance Standard. In their decision the judges wrote that “USDA’s interpretation ignores the plain language of the statute” governing meat inspection. Under that statute, USDA has the right to suspend inspection for unsanitary conditions at a facility, which the performance standard failed to measure.
“This decision will serve food safety by focusing USDA on regulatory activities that are relevant to sanitation, as the law requires,” said NMA Executive Director Rosemary Mucklow. “The Salmonella standard was both arbitrarily enforced and unscientific. It really made no sense at all.” National Meat Association, an intervenor at the appeals court, had previously joined five other meat industry trade association in filing as amici to the initial suit.
The District Court ruled against the Salmonella standard after receiving testimony from USDA officials. Then FSIS Administrator Tom Billy himself testified under oath that even the “cleanest plant in the world” could fail the standard, which was based on testing incoming meat previously inspected by USDA at other facilities. Furthermore, because the grinders where the testing was taking place have no microbial interventions, they do not have the power to remove it, only to ask their supplier to do so. Importantly, the Fifth Circuit judges wrote in their decision that “the performance standard is invalid because it regulates the procurement of raw materials.”
“Despite the fact that this standard was fatally flawed from the beginning, NMA believes that microbial standards do have a place in HACCP,” said Mucklow. “The appropriate ‘next step’ for USDA would be to initiate rulemaking to develop scientifically sound microbial performance standards.” Currently, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Advisory Committee on Microbial Criteria for Food are preparing reports to the Secretary of Agriculture and Congress regarding the appropriate role of microbiological performance standards for food.
USDA retains the right to enforce the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) regulations currently in place. Without the enforcement of the standard, HACCP programs will continue to advance food safety with great effectiveness.
National Meat Association is a non-profit trade association representing meat packers and processors, as well as equipment manufacturers and suppliers who provide services to the meat industry. The association, with over 600 members throughout the United States, includes membership in Canada, Australia and Mexico.