On-going vacancies and funding shortages for public-health veterinarians, particularly those with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), could hamper efforts to ensure the safety of U.S. meat products and overall public health, according to the National Association of Federal Veterinarians (NAFV).
The NAFV notes that a recent Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) food safety report indicates that the incidence of foodborne illnesses from Listeria, Salmonella, and Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) have increased in recent years. Between 2013 and 2016, FSIS inspectors have recorded a 4% increase in Listeria, 2% in Salmonella and a 21% increase in STEC. And according to NAFV, previous analyses have indicated the number of infections far exceeds those diagnosed.
In a news release, NAFV stresses that FSIS must have a professional leadership workforce that is highly educated and well-trained in science and food safety-related issues to ensure food inspections are conducted correctly, efficiently and effectively.
According to information from NAFV, there were 720 FSIS veterinarians working in food-safety inspections in 2016, reflecting an 11% vacancy rate. About $10 million in FSIS appropriations would be needed to bring the agency’s food-inspection force up to full strength.
Public-health veterinarians perform several specialized tasks in protecting food safety, including:
Anti-mortem inspections for zoonotic and foreign animal diseases
Post-mortem verification of food safety, disease and conditions and carcass disposition
Expert direction of the national residue program
Decision and direction of sample collection for pathology and microbiological determinations
Verification of eligibility of products for export and signing of certificates
“USDA needs more professionals with formal professional food safety education and credentials, as well as food safety experience, to better implement continuous improvements in food safety and avoid increases in food safety illnesses as reported by FSIS in 2016,” says the NAFV.
After reports of inspectors taking bribes to allow the sale of contaminated meat, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is now testing shipments of raw beef and ready-to-eat meat products originating from Brazil.
According to reports, meatpackers in Brazil have been shipping out Salmonella-tainted beef products–a problem that is known and ignored by some official health inspectors. As a result, two Brazilian meatpacking companies are being investigated. Police have issued at least 38 arrest warrants in connection to the sale of tainted, expired meat. Reports indicate that police found meat that had been treated with water and manioc flour in an effort to disguise the spoiled meat’s discoloration and foul odor.
In light of the news of what has been taking place in Brazil, the country’s meat products are no longer welcome in Chile, European Union and South Korea as of this week. These bans are temporary. However, the U.S. will continue to accept meat from Brazil because it is believed that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s food safety checks and balances are strong enough to weed out and detect any problems such as contamination. This week, some U.S. lawmakers are still pushing for a temporary ban on imported meat from Brazil.
An official statement from USDA reads, “The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is in contact with USDA embassy officials and Brazil’s ministry about their investigation. It is our mission to keep the food supply safe for American families and FSIS has instituted pathogen testing of all shipments of raw beef and ready-to-eat products from Brazil as well as increased the examination of all these products. We will continue to monitor the events as they unfold.”
Due to these events, it is expected that 100 percent of Brazilian meat imports in the U.S. will be reinspected.
Brazil is one of the world’s largest exporters of beef. In August 2016, the U.S. finally began allowing beef imports from Brazil after a 13-year ban due to multiple complications with foreign beef producers.