In a letter to the US Department of Agriculture, Food & Water Watch has called for the regulator to revoke equivalency status of the Australian Export Meat Inspection System (Aemis). The USDA had reaffirmed Australia's equivalency status in 2011.
But according to Food & Water Watch, that equivalency should be taken away after Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) removed government meat inspectors from red meat slaughter lines and allowed company employees to assume those duties.
In its letter, Food & Water Watch claimed that ever since Australia implemented Aemis, USDA import inspectors have detected “an ever-increasing number of zero-tolerance violations for visible fecal and other meat containments in Australian meat shipments.”
Food & Water Watch also said meat companies in Australia are abandoning Aemis, and that the European Union flagged problems with the system.
“Although the European Union has flagged definite problems in allowing meat companies to police their own inspection systems, the USDA has yet to speak out about this very obvious conflict of interest,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, in a statement.
“Yet if the result of a privatised meat inspection system in Australia is food that is unsafe to eat, the United States owes it to consumers to revoke the equivalency determination for Aemis.”
Hauter was referring to an audit carried out by officials with EU’s Food and Veterinary Office of Aemis in October 2012.
In a final report, FVO said the control of the whole production chain of fresh meat from domestic animals and wild game meat intended for export to the EU was satisfactory “with the exception of the concept introduced by the Aemis”.
“The Aemis inspection system implemented by the [Department of Agriculture] in the export establishments is not in line with the requirements of Regulation (EC) No 854/2004 because the AAOs [Australian government authorised officers] who are directly employed and paid by the FBO [food business operator] cannot be considered as OAs [official auxiliaries] to perform post-mortem inspection.”
Australia is the second-largest exporter of red meat and red meat products to the US, which imported more than 281m kilos of red meat from Australia in 2013, and that figure is expected to increase.