Pilot Slaughter Program Expanded

January 16, 2002

USDA is trying to strengthen a pilot slaughter program now operating in 25 plants that process young chickens, hogs and turkeys. The program will be expanded to additional plants on a voluntary basis. The announcement came from Under Secretary for Food Safety Elsa Murano in a speech to the National Turkey Federation. Started in 1997, the HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) is an effort to determine how FSIS can improve the use of its online slaughter inspectors and continue to ensure the reduction and/or elimination of defects that pass through traditional inspection.

Under the project, FSIS has established performance standards for food safety and other defects that require improved performance by industry in reducing these defects. Participating plants must develop new process control systems to meet these performance standards. FSIS conducts inspection, which includes a final government inspection of every carcass as well as selecting an increased number of samples for verification testing, to ensure that these standards are met. Data from plants currently operating under the models show important improvements in food safety and other consumer protections.

"Even though this project is still in a pilot phase, we are continually evaluating the progress to determine needed improvements," said Murano. "Based on comments received to date from all interested parties, including most recently a report by the General Accounting Office, we believe that additional changes are warranted to strengthen the program."

This year, USDA will propose regulations in the Federal Register for plants that slaughter young chickens. Proposals for young turkeys and hogs will follow. The proposal for young chickens will include mandating formalized training for plant personnel that participate in HIMP; increasing participation in the HIMP program by allowing plants to volunteer for the project. Participants would be required to adhere to specific criteria set by FSIS; and mandating that participating plants use statistical process control for quality defects.

FSIS employees have provided comments and suggestions during the pilot program, particularly inspectors working in HIMP plants, and FSIS will continue to examine ways to improve how it receives this information. In addition, USDA will continue to seek input from all interested parties - including public health, industry, and consumer groups as well as the general public - to strengthen the program.