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Hagen Promises Poultry Inspections are Still Going to Change

A government auditor’s critique of data used to justify new poultry inspection rules is not going to prevent the new system from going forward, Elisabeth Hagen, USDA’s Under Secretary for Food Safety, said Wednesday.

Hagen told The Hagstrom Report, the subscriber news service covering USDA, that there were more reasons for the change than just those covered by the Government Accountability Office report.

The report came on the heels of stories published Tuesday by the Washington Post and Politico based on leaked draft copies of the GAO report not yet officially released in its complete form. The report is now available on the GAO website.

“This is about public health,” Hagen told The Hagstrom Report. “We are focusing on things that matter, not things that mattered in the ‘50s. We’ve got to reverse the trend on Salmonella and this is a big step toward it.”

Except for a pilot project the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) began in 1998, poultry inspections in the U.S. have changed little since Dwight D. Eisenhower was president.

Hagan said the new inspection rule is based on more than data generated by the pilot program. GAO said FSIS should disclose the limitations on the data the pilot program has generated, but did not suggest stopping changes that are under way.

GAO did question whether so-called “stakeholders” had enough information to comment on the proposed rule. The comment period is now closed, and USDA plans another round of drafting before sending a final rule to the Executive Office of Management and Budget for its sign-off.

USDA officials have long sought to change the way poultry is inspected in the U.S. While “continuous inspection” has been practiced since the 1950s, the emphasis has been on the cosmetic appearance of carcasses and not on the pathogens that can make them a food-safety risk.

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