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Monday, March 29, 2010

The USDA’s Authority to Recall Meat and Poultry Products

Cynthia Brougher
Legislative Attorney

Geoffrey S. Becker
Specialist in Agricultural Policy

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has monitored numerous recalls of meat and poultry products sold in the United States. The recalls have involved beef products possibly contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, beef and poultry products possibly contaminated with Salmonella, and canned meat products possibly contaminated by botulism. These recalls raise issues of consumer confidence in the meat industry and questions about the adequacy of the USDA oversight of these products.

In February 2008, USDA announced the largest-ever recall, of 143.4 million pounds of fresh and frozen beef products from a California slaughterer-processor. The Class II recall (meaning only a remote possibility of adverse health effects) was in response to evidence that nonambulatory ("downer") cattle had been mistreated and periodically slaughtered for food, in violation of a federal humane slaughter law and of meat safety regulations, respectively.

Following these recalls, Congress included in the 2008 farm law (P.L. 110-246) new requirements for establishments to promptly notify USDA about potentially adulterated or mislabeled meat and poultry products and also to develop and maintain plans for conducting a recall. Other recall related issues for Congress include whether USDA should be given mandatory recall authority; whether notification and/or recall planning rules should be more prescriptive; and whether new recordkeeping and product traceability requirements are needed.

Currently, USDA does not have authority to mandate a recall of meat and poultry products. Rather, USDA, through FSIS, monitors food companies' recalls. When FSIS learns of a potential recall, it convenes a recall committee, which makes recommendations based on information such as any pertinent production and distribution data provided by the company. Once the company initiates a recall, FSIS immediately issues a press release to notify the public, posts it on its website, and provides information directly to stakeholders—including Congress, the media, federal, state, and local officials, and constituents—via e-mail and faxes. At the conclusion of the recall, FSIS conducts an effectiveness check to determine whether all appropriate parties were properly notified and all reasonable efforts were made to retrieve, destroy, or return the recalled product to the firm.

This report provides an overview of the USDA's authority to regulate meat, poultry, and their products. Specifically, it discusses the requirements of USDA inspections and import regulations, as well as the USDA's role in product recalls. This report also addresses some of the issues that arise when considering possible changes to recall authority and reviews proposed legislation in the 111th Congress regarding the role of the USDA in the recall process. The Appendix of this report provides information regarding recent recalls and the significance of the recall data.

Date of Report: March 12, 2010
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: RL34313
Price: $29.95

Document available electronically as a pdf file or in paper form.
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