Lyng Says U.S. Meat and Poultry Inspection System Best in World
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Agriculture Secretary Richard E. Lyng, riled by recent reports of widespread salmonella in the nation’s poultry supply, said Thursday that Americans have the best meat and poultry inspection system in the world.
″It’s damned unfair to be so critical of our system,″ Lyng said. ″And it’s being done by people that don’t really make an effort to understand what the system’s about.″
He told a meeting of the National Cattlemen’s Association that there have been ″some tremendously unfair and non-factual attacks″ on federal inspection recently.
Lyng singled out a CBS News television report on ″60 Minutes″ last Sunday night about poultry inspection deficiencies and how salmonella can result from hurried, unsanitary conditions in slaughter plants.
The Agriculture Department has said that nearly four of every 10 chickens reaching consumers is contaminated by salmonella, a group of common food poisoning organisms.
Other news accounts also have focused on the salmonella problem in poultry. The Senate Agriculture Committee has scheduled hearings later this month on USDA’s inspection program, and the National Academy of Sciences is expected to release a report on the health-risk aspects of federal poultry inspection.
The Government Accountability Project, which describes itself as ″a Washington, D.C.-based whistleblower support group,″ this week sent Lyng an open letter signed by current or former USDA inspectors, who charged that recent increases in food poisoning are tied to poor inspection procedures.
″It’s not enough for me to say that the system is strong and well and operating very effectively. I can say that over and over again, but ... I’ll make no headlines with that kind of statement,″ Lyng said.
He added: ″I think we’ve got the finest meat and poultry inspection system that exists in the world.″
Lyng said people who make charges that salmonella can be eliminated by ″proper care″ in plants should know better. It can be minimized, he said, but salmonella is endemic, a part of the poultry business.
″Anybody who runs a meat or poultry plant knows that we’re pretty tough on the efforts to keep salmonella at a minimum,″ he said.
Lyng, as other USDA officials have done, said consumers have part of the responsibility of preparing and cooking food to minimize the possibility of food poisoning.