June 4, 2010
On June 4, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced a series of public meetings in response to the release of their controversial guidance document back in March on HACCP Systems Validation for small and very small meat and poultry processing facilities.
The first public meeting will be held on June 14 from 8:30-1:00 at the USDA’s Jefferson Auditorium.
Comments on the original draft guidance are due June 19. FSIS plans to review comments and then issue a revised draft guidance document in the Federal Register sometime in July. That new draft will also be open for public comment, and FSIS plans to do two additional public meetings during the comment period.
The draft guidance was controversial in part due to an overreliance on testing. Indications are that will change in the next draft.
The topic has been taken up by the Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network. The network is a leading force in helping small and mid-size meat processors strengthen and expand to better service the growing number of farmers and consumers interested in local, grass-fed, humane, organic and other alternative products.
In an attempt to clarify its intent and deal with the controversy, FSIS has issued a helpful fact sheet.
The issue arose at yesterday’s National Rural Summit, with a farmer expressing her fear that the rule could shut down their local plant, and USDA Secretary Vilsack responding that this is not at all the intent of the guidance. He said the guidance has been misinterpreted but also indicated that changes will be made.
The Department is to be applauded for providing further opportunity for public comments. Hopefully the next iteration of the guidance will not only clear up the problems, but also mark the beginning of the next step toward strong USDA support for rebuilding a dispersed meat processing sector in response to the growing interest in sustainable livestock production.