Comment: New carcase inspection regime meets EU/US expectations, says MPI

Scott Gallacher, MPI deputy director general.UPDATED WITH THE LATEST INFORMATION

A number of meat inspectors critical of the new ovine-post-mortem inspection regime for meat carcases are quoted in a sensationalised article about the new process in the March edition of Metro Magazine. Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) deputy director-general standards Scott Gallacher responds, saying that MPI’s priority is on ensuring that New Zealand food – including meat products – is safe for consumers to consume both here and overseas.

The alternative meat inspection system—which seven New Zealand premises have opted to use – is in-line with the relevant international Codex Meat Hygiene standard issued in 2005 by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which develops harmonised food standards, guidelines and codes of practice. It also aligns with our domestic legislation which has permitted company inspection since the Animal Products Act was passed in 1999.

The wide range of controls to ensure food safety in the processing of meat still apply. An official inspector continues to carry out food safety related functions. For example:

  • An official inspector is always at the final post-mortem inspection point.
  • An official inspector also provides a roving function: oversight of the system, including company inspection.

We are confident that the alternative meat inspection system meets MPI’s strict requirements for ensuring meat is safe to consume.

The alternative meat inspection programme applies to post-mortem meat inspection for sheep and cattle at meat export premises—it follows successful trial results and acceptance by the United States of America (USA) and European Union (EU).

Officials from the EU visited New Zealand in June 2013 to evaluate the system and it met their expectations. The USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service evaluated the system’s performance data in September 2013 and commented favourably.

Company inspectors are trained and assessed by AsureQuality and have an NZQA level four qualification. This qualification is the same as what was, and is still required for AsureQuality official inspectors on line. A level four qualification takes around six months to attain.

A range of testing was conducted before the system began to ensure it would work. This included a year long trial at one premise which, when evaluated, showed no significant difference to premises using the traditional post-mortem inspection system.

Industry information indicates that New Zealand exported around 11,000 containers of lamb and beef to the USA in 2013 alone, representing around 191,923 tonnes.

MPI had been informed by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service of seven port of entry (border) issues between 2011 and 2012, where containers – representing a total of 38 tonnes of meat products – failed to meet its zero tolerance standard.  There have been no further port of entry issues raised by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service since that time.

Importantly, none of the port of entry rejections were associated with any of the meat supplied to that market under the alternative meat inspection system, since the inception of the system in 2011.

In response to the USDA’s notifications of the port of entry issues, MPI conducted a thorough review of meat premises, which included reviewing hygiene procedures, monitoring systems and product check procedures.  The review found no systemic failures and that all New Zealand establishments were compliant with USDA Food Safety Inspection Service requirements.

MPI conducts ongoing monitoring of meat premises to ensure they continue to meet New Zealand’s high standards for meat processing—it is important we remain vigilant to ensure any food safety risks are minimised and food safety issues are addressed promptly.

MPI welcomes any information people might have on the efficacy of the alternative meat inspection system. We are always focused on continuous improvement and ensuring that any questions and/or concerns people might have are addressed.

Material provided by MPI.

 

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