The Compliance Program is part of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, the Agency responsible for ensuring that meat and poultry products are safe, wholesome, and properly labeled. A component of FSIS’ Meat and Poultry Inspection Operations, the Compliance Program is composed of a small Washington, D.C. headquarters staff and five man field offices located in Moorestown, New Jersey; Des Moines, Iowa; Atlanta, Georgia; Dallas, Texas; and Alameda, California. Established during the 1960’s, the Program supplements inplant inspection by monitoring meat and poultry products as they move through channels of distribution.
The Compliance Program investigates violations of the inspection laws; controls violative products through detentions, civil seizures and voluntary recalls; and assures that appropriate criminal, administrative, and civil sanctions are carried out. The Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act provide the Program with its legal authority and mission.
A geographically dispersed staff of approximately 130 compliance officers explain inspection and other requirements to industry officials, review records, and maintain a nationwide monitoring program to prevent adulterated of misbranded meat and poultry products from reaching consumers. Four major approaches are used to ensure compliance with meat and poultry inspection laws:
- Examining product at various stages of distribution to ensure continued wholesomeness and proper labeling, and to remove violative product from food channels;
- Educating regulated industries regarding meat and poultry laws and regulations;
- Detecting, documenting, and acting on violations that occur; and
- Cooperating with other Federal, State and local authorities to assure that product control is maintained throughout the chain of distribution.
All firms and individuals that process, store, or distribute meat and poultry products are subject to random reviews. Where prior history or known risks identify a need for closer monitoring of a particular firm or individual, there is a systematic method for determining frequency of follow-up reviews.
During a typical review, compliance officers contact management officials and discuss applicable FSIS requirements. Inventories of meat and poultry products are observed to see if they comply with Federal regulations, and appropriate records concerning the sale, purchase, shipping, or storage of products are examined. Additional investigations may occur when evidence of a violation is found.
When investigations disclose violations of meat and poultry inspection laws or regulations, the Compliance Program initiates appropriate administrative or legal action. Control mechanisms and sanctions include detentions, seizures, voluntary product recalls, letters of warning for minor violations, injunctions, prosecutions, and withdrawals of inspection. Cases involving major violations of Federal law are referred to USDA’s Office of the General Counsel (OGC) for review. OGC, in turn, forwards them to the Justice Department for further review and legal action.