The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) on Wednesday issued its report about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) proposal to modernize poultry inspection and the pilot program the proposal is based on, known as the HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP).  The report was requested by Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY).

As a result of its study, the GAO made two recommendations:

1) FSIS should disclose to the public limitations in the information including the cost benefit analysis that the agency relied on for the rulemaking to modernize poultry slaughter inspections.

2) For hogs, FSIS should collect and analyze the information necessary to determine whether the pilot project is meeting its purpose.

Significantly, the GAO report did not recommend that FSIS should delay publishing a final rule on the new poultry inspection system.  FSIS said that the agency agrees with the recommendations and has already taken steps to address them when they issue the final rule.

A number of articles published after GAO released the report mischaracterized its findings.  The National Chicken Council, National Association of Federal Veterinarians and top USDA food safety officials, among others, fired back this week in the press.

“This proposal is about making food safer – period,” said Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., NCC vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs in a press release. “In an effort to continue our progress towards reducing foodborne illnesses, we believe that the poultry inspection system should be modernized to transition to a model that is more science and risk-based, from one that was implemented in 1957.”

Dr. Douglas Fulnechek, a veterinarian and president of the National Association of Federal Veterinarians, noted in a press release, “Our experience is that the new poultry inspection system results in safer meat.”

Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, undersecretary for food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reiterated the agency’s support for the rule and told Politico, “An inspector could have three days per bird and he still couldn’t see Salmonella… When we look at the data, it’s pretty clear that consumer protections are increased and not decreased. It’s completely the opposite of the story that some people are pushing.”

Similarly in an op ed in Food Safety News, FSIS Administrator Al Almanza said, “If finalized and implemented broadly, this new inspection system would enable FSIS to better fulfill our food safety mission. Nothing in the GAO’s report contradicts this basic fact.”