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Meat Inspections at Borders Drop

July 10, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Federal meat inspectors are testing less imported meat at the borders, according to reports by the Agriculture Department.

Inspectors tested 6 percent of the 969 million pounds of meat and poultry products imported into the United States from October to the end of December, department records show. In the previous quarter, inspectors tested 18 percent of the 1.05 billion pounds of imported meat.

Last fall, the agency announced it was improving its inspection regime amid concerns that terrorists could attack the food supply.

The new system replaced random tests with targeted tests, said Elsa Murano, head of the department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Inspectors now look out for products that are likelier to have undergone tampering or to be carrying a disease, like precooked meats.

``That’s why when you look at figures, you think to yourself, certainly something’s changed,″ she said.

Carol Tucker Foreman of the Consumer Federation of America’s Food Policy Institute said imported meat inspections should not have dropped, particularly at a time when the government should be concerned with security.

``This is an unusual time to do anything that results in less meat being inspected,″ she said.

Border inspectors visually examine all of the meat that comes into the country, but they test only portions of it.

Murano said that the new system has more tests for bacteria like E. coli that could cause food poisoning and for toxins possibly planted by terrorists. She declined to specify the toxins.

She also said that the 146 foreign meat plants exporting to the United States are inspected by U.S. officials to ensure that their safety standards are equivalent to those required of American meatpackers.

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On the Net:

Agriculture Department Food Safety and Inspection Service: http://www.fsis.usda.gov

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