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GAO Report Finds U.S. Food Inspection Severely Flawed

WASHINGTON - A draft report by the General Accounting Office suggests that the federal government's new science-based system of food inspections is severely flawed, Cox Newspapers reports.

The report, prepared for Congress and obtained by Cox Newspapers, concluded that inadequately trained food inspectors are unable to spot problems at a majority of the nation's meat and poultry plants. GAO investigators also found that nearly all of the 47 plants that it sampled had food safety programs that "failed to meet regulatory requirements."

According to the report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture continued to allow plants to ship meat and poultry for consumption by the public, even though tests repeatedly found some were laced with either hazardous bacteria or feces.

Despite the findings, it is unclear what impact these problems are having on the safety of America's food supply.

In April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the incidence of food borne illness had declined 23 percent since 1966. The Bush administration cited the new inspection system as one of the reasons for the decline.

Specific plants were not mentioned in the GAO report.

A USDA spokesman said his agency is still formulating a response to the GAO. But he said the report does not accurately reflect the current state of the government's food inspection program.

"Many of the things that the GAO cite in their report were things that (the Agriculture Department) had identified prior to the beginning of their investigation," Cohen said. "And what we are going to be reporting to the GAO are systems and programs that have been designed but not fully implemented to address many of the things that the GAO cited."
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