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Australia’s Privatized Meat Inspection Questioned

An alternative meat inspection program used by Australian exporters maintains sanitation standards equal to those of the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), according to a notice of approval published in the Federal Register March 3.

The notice says FSIS is reaffirming its earlier decision to accept Australia’s Meat Safety Enhancement Program, or MSEP, for beef, sheep and goat meat. Comment period on the notice ends April 4.

One consumer advocacy group, however, had an immediate comment.

In a news release, Food & Water Watch objected to what it described as privatized inspectors replacing government inspectors. “Food safety is a government public health function,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of the organization. “As such, consumers expect a food inspection system that is free from industry influence and employs independent government inspectors who are well-trained and can protect the public without industry intimidation.”

Australia is one of the largest meat exporters to the U.S.–nearly 563 million pounds of red meat products in 2010 alone.

In 1999, when Australia moved toward privatized meat inspection there was so much furor in both Australia and the U.S. that no meat company in Australia used it until 2008, when one beef company was approved to export its meat to the U.S. under a monitored pilot program.

Although FSIS has received assurances that the trial period has shown the inspections meet acceptable public health goals, Food & Water Watch said it fears once the scrutiny is gone, “major problems with the new system could emerge.”

“We fear that FSIS is playing Russian Roulette with U.S. consumers,” says Hauter. “FSIS made a mistake to approve MSEP in 1999 and it is making a major error in judgment to approve the expansion of Australia’s privatization efforts now.”

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