Responsible Parties of the Tiered System

Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, (FFDCA) the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) protects consumers against impure, unsafe, and fraudulently labeled food. The FDA has inspection authority over any food in interstate commerce except for products regulated by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

Products that are regulated by the USDA FSIS include meat, poultry, and egg products. Initially, both FSIS and FDA were part of the US Department of Agriculture. However, in 1940 the FDA was transferred out of the USDA. It is now part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The mission of both the FDA and the FSIS is to ensure national food safety. The FDA requires that all food come from an “approved source and process”. The most common approved sources include licensed food establishments, federally inspected meat plants, and state-inspected meat plants.

The two agencies share statutory authority in a few instances. They both share authority in regard to egg safety because FSIS is in charge of inspecting plants processing liquid, frozen, and dried egg products, while FDA monitors fresh eggs. They both share authority for food additives used in meat, poultry, and egg products. All new additives are initially evaluated for safety by the FDA. However, the FSIS has the authority to enact different regulations than the FDA with regard to the food additives allowed in the products under their jurisdiction. For example, although the FDA considers ascorbic acid to be an approved food additive, the FSIS denied permission to use it as an additive in meat salads because of fears that such usage would mask meat spoilage by organisms causing food borne illnesses.

In addition, the 1958 Food Additives Amendment to the FFDCA permitted FSIS to continue to permit use of nitrites and nitrates in amenable meat products even though the FDA does not permit their use in other food products. The FDA does not allow the use of nitrite or nitrates in food products, therefore all meat food products must be manufactured under USDA FSIS inspection. In March of 2006, FSIS issued notice 15-06 clarifying the use of nitrates in non-amenable meat products. (More on this in a later section.)

Meat products for use in pet foods fall under the jurisdiction of the FDA, which is also responsible for ensuring the safety of medicines, cosmetics, animal feed, and drugs for pets and farm animals.

The FDA also ensures that products are labeled truthfully with the information that people need to use them properly.

The regulations require FDA inspection of the facilities and processes involved in slaughtering of non-amenable species (if not already inspected by another party) and the processing of food, including amenable and non-amenable meat and poultry products. According to the FDA the source and process, not the animal itself, must be inspected and approved. FDA inspections are usually done once a year. If a facility is involved only in processing, then the FDA requires that all ingredients come from an “approved source and process”. Approved sources of meat and poultry are those that come from a licensed food establishment, a federally inspected meat plant, or a state-inspected meat plant.

If a company is found violating any of the laws that FDA enforces, then the FDA can encourage the firm to correct voluntarily the problem or to recall the product from the market. A recall is generally the fastest and most effective way to protect the public from an unsafe product. When a company can’t or won’t correct a public health problem voluntarily, FDA can enact legal sanctions.

USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for ensuring that meat, poultry, and egg products are safe, wholesome, and properly labeled and packaged.  The Department is also responsible for assuring that state meat and poultry inspection programs for commerce within that State are at least equal to Federal standards.  In addition, products imported from other countries must be produced by a system that is equivalent to that employed by the United States.  USDA statutory authority lies with the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act, and the Egg Products Inspection Act.

The Federal Meat Inspection Act defines specifically the kinds of animals that must be slaughtered and processed under FSIS inspection. Animals mentioned under the act are amenable; animals not mentioned are “non-amenable” (not covered or unanswerable) under the Act and these animals are exempt from FSIS requirements for meat inspection for intra-state, interstate and foreign trade. However, states can put in place further regulations for meat products from non-amenable animals.

The Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (Voluntary Reimbursable Inspection) allows FSIS to inspect exotic animals under a voluntary inspection program. The producer must pay for the voluntary FSIS inspection. FSIS regulations governing the slaughter and processing of exotic animals do not require HACCP or risk assessment. At present FSIS is considering the addition of farm-raised bison, elk, deer, and other species to the list of animals requiring USDA inspection.

A provision of the Federal Meat and Inspection Act permits states to have a cooperative agreement with USDA FSIS, where by states may have mandatory inspection programs equal that of the federal standards. The federal law limits state inspected “amenable” animals to intrastate commerce. New York does not have a USDA FSIS equivalent program for New York’s state licensed plants. Therefore, despite the fact that all New York slaughterhouses are New York State inspected, there are no New York Slaughterhouses that are USDA equivalents.

The USDA/FSIS is responsible for inspection of meat, poultry and processed meats and poultry products in interstate and foreign commerce. FSIS inspectors examine each animal before (ante-mortem) and after slaughter (post-mortem) for visible defects that can affect safety and quality of meat and poultry products. FSIS regulations require ante-mortem and post-mortem inspections of each animal and daily inspection of processing facilities by FSIS inspectors.

Other Federal Agencies

There are a number of other agencies that are directly or indirectly tied to direct marketing of meat and poultry.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) licenses all pesticide products distributed in the United States and sets standards on the amount of pesticides that may remain on food. The 1996 Food Quality Protection Act requires the EPA to consider the public’s overall exposure to pesticides (through food, water, and in home environments) when setting the standard for pesticide use on food. EPA is also responsible for protecting against other environmental, chemical, and microbial contaminants in air and water that might threaten the safety of the food supply.

The National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) conducts a voluntary seafood inspection and grading program that checks mainly for quality. Seafood is the only major food source that is both “caught in the wild” and raised domestically. Quality and safety standards vary widely from country to country and inspection of processing is a challenge because much of it takes place at sea. Mandatory regulation of seafood processing is under FDA and applies to exporters, all foreign processors that export to the United States and importers.

Other Agencies that oversee the USDA’s marketing and regulatory programs include: The Agricultural Marketing Service, Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the USDA.

Food safety issues are generally supported by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention under the Department of Health and Human Services. The CDC engages in surveillance and investigation of illnesses associated with food consumption in support of the USDA and FDA regulatory missions.

The Federal Trade Commission, through regulations of food advertising, plays an indirect role in food safety regulations. The Department’s Customs Service assists other agencies in ensuring the safety and quality of imported foods through such services as collecting samples.

Other State and County Agencies

The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets is directly involved in many aspects of meat production in the state. Their Division of Animal Industry provides licenses for livestock dealers and domestic animal health permits for middlemen handling pass thru livestock. The veterinarians in this division monitor animal welfare and record keeping at live poultry markets, livestock sale barns, etc. They also make sure that slaughter animals are properly identified for trace back purposes. The Division of Food Safety Inspection licenses and inspects all state licensed meat plants and food establishments. This division is subcontracted by the USDA FSIS to supervise custom exempt meat plants.

The New York State Department of Transportations (DOT) requires that some livestock vehicles be assigned and display a DOT number depending on weight and use.

The New York State Department of Weights and Measures will need to certify the scales used in the business. Scales are sealed and a sticker is adhered showing their expiration date. A small fee is charged for the inspection.

The County Health Department will want to know if a farm is selling meat and meat products in any form. They are also responsible for helping to certify that a meat plant’s water source is potable. Each county has different regulations so a farmer must be very specific about his or her intentions when they contact the Health Department to make sure they are in compliance.

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