Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

Releasing Inspection and Testing Data on Meat and Poultry Processing Facilities With Care Could Have “Substantial Benefits”

From the 30 November 2011 press release by the US National Academy of Sciences

WASHINGTON — Publicly posting enforcement and testing data corresponding to specific meat, poultry, and egg products’ processing plants on the Internet could have “substantial benefits,” including the potential to favorably impact public health, says a new report from the National Research Council.  The report adds that the release of such data could contribute to increased transparency and yield valuable insights that go beyond the regulatory uses for which the data are collected.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for ensuring that meat, poultry, and processed egg products are safe, wholesome, and properly labeled.  It collects voluminous amounts of data at thousands of processing facilities in support of its regulatory functions and is considering the release of two types of collected data on its website.  These include inspection and enforcement data and sampling and testing data — such as testing for the presence of food borne pathogens like salmonella, pathogenic E. coli, and listeria monocytogenes.  Some of this information is already available to the public via the Internet but is aggregated and does not contain names of specific processing facilities.  However, most of the data FSIS collects, with the exception of information that is considered proprietary, can currently be obtained by the public through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [Flahiff’s emphasis]..

…there are strong arguments supporting the public release of FSIS data that contains the names of processing facilities on the Internet, especially data that are subject to release under FOIA, unless there is compelling evidence that it is not in the public interest to release them.  Several potential benefits of releasing such data include enabling users to make more informed choices, motivating facilities to improve their performance, and allowing research studies of regulatory effectiveness and other performance-related issues.  [Flahiff’s emphasis]More specific benefits might include better understanding on the part of the public relative to the kinds of information that have been collected, such as a greater appreciation for the quality, complexity, and potential usability of the data for specific purposes.  Even if individual firms do not change their behavior in response to data posting, overall food safety could improve if information about performance leads consumers to favor high-performing facilities, effectively resulting in a shift in the composition of the market.

December 7, 2011 - Posted by | Consumer Health, Public Health | , , , , ,

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