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WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing that the meat inspection process is changed voluntarily, although congressional investigators say there's no proof the new system is as safe as the traditional program, The Associated Press reports.
Under the new system, federal inspectors would spend more time monitoring plant sanitation equipment, overseeing plant workers and sampling products for contamination, and would no longer do hand checks of carcasses. Company employees would take over that job.
"This is an improved system, but it depends on a lot of things, including plant commitment," Margaret Glavin, acting administrator of USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.
A report by the General Accounting Office cited test results that indicate some plants participating in a pilot project had more problems with some types of contamination.
Five of 11 chicken processing plants had higher rates of salmonella contamination than previously, and two processors showed improvement. Tests also found higher rates of defects, such as bruises, on chickens processed by many of the 11 plants, said GAO, the investigative arm of Congress.
"The only reason for the administration to go forward after the GAO report is to give in to the poultry industry's pressure to run their production lines faster. Faster line speeds results in more fecal material on poultry," said Carol Tucker Foreman of the Consumer Federation of America. Foreman oversaw USDA's food safety programs during the Carter administration.