WASHINGTON (B)--The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service unveiled draft report Feb. 1 that recommends redefining the role of FSIS veterinarians throughout the U.S. meat processing industry and requests the appointment a chief veterinarian for the U.S. responsible for advising the president on animal health and trade issues.

The report, which is the product of a year-old commission comprised of FSIS officials, academics and meat and poultry industry experts, found that too many FSIS veterinarians spend too much of their time in meat processing plants on administrative tasks such as supervising production lines.

"Many veterinarians are proud of the system that brought us out of The Jungle," said National Association of Federal Veterinarians Vice President Dan Boyle, referring to the 1906 Upton Sinclair novel about Chicago stockyards and packers, which created the U.S. federal meat inspection system. "If we

have to (man the production line), obviously, food safety cannot take precedence."

The report comes out as USDA is switching its animal and meat processing safety regime to its Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system. HACCP is designed to ensure that slaughtering and packing procedures meet standards designed to lower the risk of bacterial contamination, rather than relying solely on physical inspection of carcasses and meat products themselves.

"Veterinarians will continue to be important," said FSIS administrator Tom Billy. "We must better utilize skills and resources to meet public health goals."

The report calls for more cooperation between senior USDA veterinary officials in FSIS and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). It also recommends that FSIS and the meat industry devote more resources to proper staffing levels at slaughterhouses and processing plants, allowing inspecting veterinarians to properly carry out their animal health inspection duties.

Some commission members also proposed more rigorous recruitment of FSIS veterinarians, increased cooperation with farmers and "practitioner" veterinarians, and the creation a "cadre of relief inspectors" to take the pressure off inspecting veterinarians working in processing plants.

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