USDA Steps Up Imported Meat Inspections

The USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) will increase inspections of imported meat under a new notice posted by the agency on April 1. The notice was issued to U.S. FSIS personnel in the midst of the horsemeat scandal that continues in Europe and Asia.

In January, DNA testing revealed the presence of horsemeat in prepared hamburgers sold in some supermarkets in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Since then, authorities in France have determined that at least 1.6 million pounds of horsemeat were substituted for beef in prepared meals in Europe and some parts of Asia. Some food purveyors—including Nestlé, Burger King, and Ikea—whose products travel through the European Union (EU) supply line before being sold in the EU, have recalled products in which traces of horsemeat were found.

According to the FSIS, none of the EU countries or companies that have recalled products due to the mislabeled beef currently export beef to the U.S.

However, as an added safeguard to ensure that the U.S. food supply remains unaffected by the developments abroad, the FSIS is increasing species testing for meat imported into the country, the agency said. FSIS Notice 25-13 instructs department import inspection personnel to carry out increased species sampling and testing of all meat products arriving in the United States from Ireland, Northern Ireland, Poland, the U.K., and Iceland. The notice informs personnel that the agency will conduct species testing on any imported beef trimmings or other raw ground beef or veal components, regardless of the products’ country of origin; raw ground beef or veal samples collected by the FSIS will also be analyzed for the presence of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia Coli, according to the notice.

FSIS Public Affairs Specialist Cathy Cochran said that increased inspections represent the agency’s commitment to protecting U.S. consumers.

"We are confident that the inspection system at ports of entry ensures the safety of products that come into our country every day,” Cochran said. “However, in response to recent events and consumer concerns, we are increasing species testing to enhance current safeguards and prevent fraudulently labeled products from entering the country."

Natalie Rosskopf, administrative director of the Florida-based ELISA Technologies, Inc., manufacturers of the testing kits used by the FSIS, said testing kits range in price from $525 to $550 and can detect horsemeat meat contained in both raw and cooked manufactured products. Rosskopf said that aside from the occasional dog food manufacturer in the United States., private sector buyers for ELISA Technolgies’ horsemeat detection kits were generally raw meat and prepared food producers abroad. Kit sales skyrocketed there as the European horsemeat saga unfolded, she said.

In any case, testing is critical to ensure that consumers everywhere get accurately labeled meat products, Rosskopf said. She added that accurate labeling is crucial in the United States, where so many consumers oppose horsemeat for human consumption.

“People should be held accountable for accurately labeling what’s in their products,” Rosskopf said.

Under FSIS 25-13, the boosted imported meat product inspections are currently under way.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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