October 6, 2008

Nine Mexican meat, poultry plants cleared for US trade

Nine Mexican meat and poultry producing plants have been given clearance to resume exporting to the US after the US Department of Agriculture agreed with Mexico that it has improved general safety conditions.

Seven Mexican plants were barred from exporting beef, pork and poultry to the US in July and August after routine USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service audits of those facilities. But the problems found during those audits turned out to be far greater than just deficiencies at individual plants, FSIS spokeswoman Amanda Eamich said Thursday.

There were "systemic" problems in Mexico's sanitation controls, record-keeping practices and government oversight of meat safety, she said. As a result, Mexico voluntarily shut down all meat and poultry exports to the US on August 29. That decision resulted in the shut-down of trade from 22 Mexican plants, beyond the seven that were barred in July and August.

FSIS officials returned to Mexico in September for a follow-up audit and by Sep. 19 concluded that Mexico had made "significant progress" in fixing the systemic breakdowns in meat safety discovered just a couple months earlier, Eamich said.

That conclusion paved the way for Mexico to say in September that nine of its meat and poultry plants are ready again to export, a decision with which the USDA's food safety agency agreed.

Mexico is expected to present more meat and poultry plants as fit for export to the US, but the USDA doesn't know when that will happen, Eamich said.

A document, dated September 29 and posted on the FSIS Web site, lists 54 Mexican plants that were at one time eligible to export to the US All but the nine currently remain prohibited from shipping to the US for unspecified reasons.

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