Food SafetyUSDA's Role Under the National Residue Program Should Be Reevaluated Gao ID: RCED-94-158 September 26, 1994
The Agriculture Department's National Residue Program, which monitors chemical residues in meat and poultry, has weaknesses in testing and sampling as well as in the support it receives from regulatory agencies. The Agriculture Department does not adjust its testing of imported meat and poultry in response to known problems with heavy metal residues or animal drug and pesticide compounds not allowed in the United States but used by exporting nations. Thus, the Agriculture Department does not know the extent to which potentially harmful residues may or may not affect the meat and poultry supply. In addition, because thousands of agricultural chemicals and new compounds are introduced annually, the Agriculture Department may not always have complete information on chemical residues or the potential hazard such residues may present to consumers. These weaknesses could be overcome if some processes were strengthened. Any improvements made, however, would not address the basic problem with the program: reliance on detecting residues at the end of the production process to ensure safety rather than on preventing these problems from occurring in the first place.
GAO found that: (1) NRP testing is not comprehensive and the methodology used to select food samples is flawed; (2) the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) does not know the extent to which potentially harmful residues may exist in the meat and poultry supply; (3) NRP generates questionable results concerning potentially hazardous residues in meat and poultry; (4) FSIS does not always have complete information on chemical residues or the potential hazard such residues may present to consumers; (5) although FDA is principally responsible for investigating residue violations referred by FSIS, resource constraints and legislative restrictions limit its ability to take enforcement action against violators; (6) a risk-based approach to residue prevention, detection, and control may better ensure the safety of meat and poultry than the present approach, which relies on testing end products; (7) FSIS recognizes the value of changing its testing approach and has begun to design new testing systems; (8) FSIS resources could be more effectively used if FSIS delegates responsibility for establishing and operating quality assurance systems to the industry; and (9) FSIS could selectively monitor the effectiveness of industry programs and assist industry by developing information on compounds in use and test methods.Recommendations
Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.Director: Team: Phone: