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Inspector General slams USDA on Canadian Beef

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Inspector General's report slams USDA, APHIS on Canadian beef

by Pete Hisey on 2/18/05 for Meatingplace.com

The USDA's Office of the Inspector General, Northeast Region, has completed a nearly yearlong investigation of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's oversight of imported beef products from Canada after the border was closed to live cattle in May 2003.

The 50-page audit report finds that due to weak control processes, vague language as to what was and was not allowed into the United States, inconsistent and rapidly shifting definitions of terms, sometimes capricious decision-making and failure to enforce its own and others' rules, APHIS in effect let enormous amounts of "questionable" meat into the country.

The basic problem, OIG says, is that the agency never truly developed a science-based definition of what it meant by "low-risk" products in June 2003. At that time, the agency's TSE working group provided recommendations as to what beef products should be allowed to cross the border. Then-Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman released a list of approved products, which included "boneless bovine meat from cattle under 30 years of age" and "fresh or frozen bovine liver," along with recommendations for veal, goat, sheep and other meat products.

The list specifically excluded "manufacturing trim derived from bone, advanced meat recovery, mechanically separated meat or low-temperature rendered product."

What happened next is referred to by OIG as "permit creep." In August 2003, somewhat mysteriously, beef tongue was classified as low-risk, even though the TSE Working Group had specifically classified it as moderate-risk. By October, it had expanded the list to include processed products containing beef — including ground beef, roast beef, and other products — but never made the changes public. In April 2004, APHIS announced that bone-in beef, ground meat and further processed beef products would all be eligible for import as low-risk. R-CALF USA, a cattle rancher advocacy group, immediately sued, and several senators demanded an investigation a month later.

Canadian plants failed to meet requirements

The resulting audit makes several charges and recommendations. Among the former, a serious one is that while APHIS demanded that all meat imported from Canada come from plants either dedicated only to cattle under 30 months of age or one that had a strict segregation plan that had been approved by APHIS in place, the OIG found that only one Canadian plant had filed such a plan, and it was rejected.

"Not a single Canadian facility met the minimum requirement, set forth in the administrator's decision memorandum, of having a product segregation plant that had been reviewed and approved by APHIS," the report says. It adds that nevertheless, at least 55 permits allowed the import of such processed products as ground beef, sausage, meatballs, pot pies, pepperoni, frankfurters and the like, where products from cattle under and over 30 months could have easily been combined. Over 5.6 million pounds of processed products containing beef entered the United States between Sept.1, 2003, and April 30, 2004.

An internal APHIS memorandum allowing processed products from plants that used both young and old cattle noted that among the policy change's drawbacks was the lack of opportunity for public comment and an increased possibility that high-risk product, such as mechanically separated meat, could be imported into the United States due to mislabeling. The decision to allow facilities handling both kinds of products was never communicated to the public, OIG says. That might be because of the 300 permits issued between Aug. 28, 2003, and April 5, 2004, only one was from a facility dedicated to animals under 30 months. Under the original plan, 299 of 300 requests would have been turned down.

Definitions questioned

Another major area of criticism was the inclusion of beef cheeks under the definition of boneless beef. The Harvard Risk Assessment USDA commissioned in 2001 had clearly warned about potential contamination of cheek meat by brain tissue or other tissues during the slaughter process, yet USDA allowed it to be imported, even though in its own documents it had called cheek meat ineligible. USDA says the report calling the meat ineligible had been superseded by a later memorandum, but OIG's audit showed that exactly the opposite had happened. In all, at least 63,000 pounds of cheek meat, all from the same source, entered the United States. Cheek meat is now once again ineligible.

Under terms of the May 4, 2003, preliminary injunction agreed to by USDA and R-CALF USA, the only beef products allowed from that point on were liver, provided no air-injected stunning was used at slaughter, and boneless fresh or frozen beef from cattle proven to be under 30 months of age and not known to have been fed prohibited products. The agreement specifically bans ground meat of any sort, mechanically separated meat and advanced meat recovery. Brains and spinal cords must be removed before shipping.

OIG's suggestions

OIG makes a series of suggestions, including better communication with constituents and the public, immediate cancellation of all import permits that allow questionable products like tongue and meat cheeks, development of consistent terminology to be used in import situations and development of better systems of control and enforcement.

Testifying in front of a House subcommittee Thursday, Inspector General Phyllis K. Fong explained some of the findings in general. "We found that while APHIS allowed the import of beef products they considered low-risk in an attempt to further trade, they did not publicly communicate or explain their actions to all interested parties. APHIS changed its policies relating to required risk-mitigation measures to allow the import of low-risk product produced at plants that also handled higher-risk product."

R-CALF spokeswoman Shae Dodson says the report vindicates the organization. During its investigation, R-CALF found that 37 million pounds of unauthorized beef, mainly ground beef, came across the border from August 2003 to March 2004. "The investigation indicates that USDA does not have a handle on its processes," Dodson said.

USDA did not return calls for comment.
Then-Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman released a list of approved products, which included "boneless bovine meat from cattle under 30 years of age" and "fresh or frozen bovine liver," along with recommendations for veal, goat, sheep and other meat products.
Prosecution claims tonnes mad cow tainted meat eaten in Turkey

The prosecution statement contradicts the statement by current Agriculture Minister Sami Guclu, who said that no meat was imported from any countries where mad cow disease identified since 1986.

February 17— Thousands of Turks may have consumed illegally imported beef tainted with mad cow disease, prosecutors claimed Wednesday.

According to documents presented by state prosecutors, in the years 1996 and 1997 Turkey imported tonnes of meat that may have been affected by the incurable disease.
An investigation launched with the approval of the office of the Prime Minister showed that a 1986 ban on importing meat into Turkey had not been followed. The prosecution investigation showed that meat, meat fats and other meat products had been imported from France and the Netherlands.
However, due to the expiry of the statute of limitations in such cases, the 27 bureaucrats allegedly involved in allowing the illegal imports cannot be tried since permission to conduct the investigation was only granted in 2004.
Any decision on whether the four Agriculture Ministers who had served during the period covered by the investigation; Nevzat Ercan, İsmet Atilla, Musa Demirci and Mustafa Taşar, should face charges depends on a vote of parliament.
I would think that this Inspector Generals report would have a big influence on the Judges decision on whether to order an injunction staying the March 7 border opening......Pretty well shows the USDA has been playing fast and loose with existing laws and rules and that maybe a court needs to look at the whole picture......
sometimes capricious decision-making and failure to enforce its own and others' rules, APHIS in effect let enormous amounts of "questionable" meat into the country.

That will be the legacy of Ann's reign. Very questionable.

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