In 2011, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued new regulations for the Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS) program, which was authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill. The program clears the way for small meat plants that have 25 or fewer employees and use inspectors employed by state agencies rather than the USDA to ship meat out of state. As of Jan. 31, 2013, three states — Ohio, North Dakota and Wisconsin — and eight establishments in two of those states had been selected to participate in the program.
This week the Government Accounting Office (GAO) reported results of a mandated audit to determine the effectiveness of USDA’s implementation of the program. The audit found USDA’s implementation of the CIS addresses most key farm bill requirements, but additional action is needed.
The auditors found the FSIS technical assistance division has not coordinated with other USDA agencies to provide outreach, education and training to establishments as required by the 2008 Farm Bill. Also, FSIS gave funds to four states to assess what they would need to do to meet the program requirements and to serve as models for other states. The audit found, though, that FSIS did not collect information from those four states to share with other states. The report also notes a wide discrepancy in the frequency of FSIS oversight visits to plants in the CIS program versus other state-inspected plants. FSIS officials said the agency intends these visits to CIS program plants to be conducted at least once every three months and to submit quarterly food-safety compliance reports on each establishment. In contrast, under the existing inspection programs in which states conduct inspections for interstate shipment, FSIS inspects establishments and issues a compliance report about once every four years.
Also, the federal program specifies that state inspections that convey federal marks be identical to federal inspections, including legal authorities, inspector training, computer systems and laboratory protocols. The audit report notes, however, that 2013 cooperative agreements with states specify a lesser standard inconsistent with those requirements.
The GAO offered recommendations to address these issues and USDA agreed with the recommendations.