Meat Imported From Mexico May Not Be Safe--Report : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

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Friday February 16 5:26 PM ET Meat Imported From Mexico May Not Be Safe--Report

By Keith Mulvihill

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Meat that is imported into the United States from Mexico may not be up to the current health and safety standards of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and may pose a health threat to Americans, according to a letter to President Bush (news - web sites) from Congresswomen Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat from Ohio.

``A significant proportion of the meat consumed on America's tables is imported from other countries,'' Kaptur notes. In 1999, the US imported 11 million pounds of meat from Mexico, according to Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a not-for-profit health advocacy group based in Washington, DC.

``I want to relay my serious concern about the safety of meats imported into the United States from Mexico, and urge you to consider this matter to be of significant magnitude to be worthy of discussion with Mexican President Vicente Fox...,'' the letter states.

The letter was sent to President Bush on Wednesday of this week, the same day that the CSPI released an announcement stating the USDA is ignoring the possibility of contaminated meat imported from Mexico into the United States.

Congresswomen Kaptur and the CSPI have been working on this issue for several months, a spokesperson for Kaptur told Reuters Health.

``Recent data on foreign meat and poultry plant inspections obtained from the USDA show that Mexico had the highest proportion of meat and poultry plants which failed to pass inspection by USDA's auditors. In fact, in one period during 1998-1999, a full 50% of the Mexican plants inspected were found to be unsanitary,'' according to Kaptur's letter.

The CSPI announcement notes that in the spring of 1999, 8 out of 25 Mexican meat and poultry plants ``flunked USDA's inspections because of such violations as fecal contamination, not having hand soap at the workers' hand-washing facilities, meat being stored under (unsanitary) conditions, failure to sanitize contaminated equipment, and failure to conduct bacteria tests on a random basis.''

In addition, the group states that ``USDA inspectors also found serious deficiencies in the Mexican laboratories that are supposed to test the meat for deadly Salmonella bacteria.''

Despite the fact that the USDA re-audited the Mexican plants, the ``USDA inspections indicate little progress in the correction of deficiencies identified in these audits despite assurances from the Mexican government,'' Kaptur writes.

``In addition, USDA paradoxically declared late last year that Mexico has a meat and poultry inspection system basically equivalent to those domestically. Clearly, this is not the case,'' Kaptur concludes.

``Currently, nobody knows whether or not meat being imported from Mexico is contaminated,'' Benjamin Cohen, a staff attorney at CSPI, told Reuters Health.

``We are asking Congress to tell the USDA to audit the entire meat processing systems in Mexico or cease to import from the unaudited plants,'' he added.

In general, the USDA randomly checks all meat coming into the United States. The USDA method evaluates about 20% of all meat imports, Cohen explained.

However, ``it is only a visual inspection, which does not detect pathogens like Salmonella which can only be detected by laboratory analysis,'' Cohen told Reuters Health.

In general, there is no way to know the country of origin for meat sold in the US, Cohen pointed out.

``All people can do is tell Congress to be tougher on the USDA so that they monitor this matter more closely,'' he said.

In her letter to President Bush, Kaptur notes, ``While precise data on the incidence of illness associated with meat and poultry products are limited, USDA reports that data from varied sources suggest that food-borne microbial pathogens may account for up to 7 million cases of food-borne illness each year, and up to 7,000 deaths. Of these, nearly 5 million cases of illness and more than 4,000 deaths may be associated with meat and poultry products.''

-- K (, February 19, 2001

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