COMMENTS & RECOMMENDATIONS ON
USDA-FSIS IMPLEMENTATION OF TITLE V INTERSTATE MEAT PROGRAM
I. Selected Establishment Provisions
Key Issues & Questions: The Secretary, in coordination with the appropriate state agency, may select the establishment to ship in interstate commerce if the plant has 25 or less employees. How will the selection process work? What criteria will be used to determine eligibility?
Establishments interested in participating in this program shall make application to the state agency on a form provided by the state agency. If the state agency determines that the establishment(s) is in compliance with the state inspection program, they will submit to the state coordinator an establishment name or a list of establishments names interested and eligible for selection.
The state coordinator and a designee of the state program shall review applications from state-licensed establishments that want to participate in the program. A joint decision shall be rendered, within 30 days of receiving a fully completed application. Failure to render a decision within 30 days shall result in a default selection of the establishment into the program.
All state inspected facilities currently in operation are eligible to be selected provided they comply with the key elements of this legislation and the same criteria used for any other plant wanting to go under federal inspection. There should be no other decision-making factors.
II. Employee Numbers
Key Issues & Questions: Establishments that are larger than 25 employees but less than 35 employees are eligible for the new program, but must transition to a federal establishment after three years. How will this process work? How is the number of employees determined (i.e. seasonable vs. full time workers, clerical, truck drivers vs. manufacturers)?
The employee count shall be determined as follows:
ï€ï€Only full-time permanent production workers and the associated supervisory personnel shall be counted.
ï€ï€Full time work permanent shall be defined as 35 or more hours per week for 50 weeks per year, which is consistent with the definition used by the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics.
ï€ï€Clerical, administrative and other non-plant workers shall not be included in the count.
ï€ï€The employee count shall be established at time of application. Upward changes shall not affect an establishment’s status.
ï€ï€Growth is expected and is beneficial for the establishments participating in this program. Establishments should not be penalized for adding staff.
--They should have to maintain the level of 25-35 full time employees for the 3 years. If during that 3 year period, the plant decides it does not want to become a federal establishment, it has the right to end its selected status and remain just a state plant.
ï€ï€When an establishment has more than 25 -- but fewer than 35 -- employees, the state coordinator and the state meat and poultry inspection program designee shall review the application and approve it provided:
o The establishment has formally refused an offer to become a federally licensed establishment;
o The establishment has not previously been a federally licensed establishment; and
o The establishment has agreed to not add employees so they do not number more than 35 within the next three years.
III. State Coordinator
Key Issue & Questions: The Secretary shall designate a federal employee as a “State Coordinator” for each state agency, and will be under direct supervision of the Secretary. The State Coordinator will visit selected plants “with a frequency appropriate” to ensure that plants are operating in a manner “consistent” with the federal Meat Inspection Act. The State Coordinator will provide quarterly reports that describe the “status” of plants on their level of compliance with the Act. If the State Coordinator finds any plant in violation of the Act, then he/she will notify the Secretary and deselect the plant or suspend inspection.
Is the State Coordinator an existing position or new appointment? What should be the duties of the State Coordinator? What is his/her level of involvement? How is the frequency of visits determined? What do the reports entail? What is the process for deselection or suspension of inspection?
Many states expressed concern that there needs to be a strong cooperative relationship between state inspection program and FSIS—otherwise, the program would be inhibited and difficult to administer. There must be more of a strong communication line between state and federal partners as a team.
It was suggested that it might be helpful for FSIS to review other state-federal cooperative agreements because there are some good examples on how similar programs work and are administered.
If there is to be uniformity amongst state coordinators, so that there is equivalent enforcement across all states, they should have a single direct supervisor.
The state coordinator shall be stationed at the state meat and poultry inspection program agency. The state meat and poultry inspection agency shall provide reasonable office accommodations for the state coordinator.
The state coordinator’s performance evaluation shall be conducted by the Secretary of Agriculture. Input on the employee’s evaluation shall be requested from the manager of the state meat and poultry inspection program.
State employees shall have equal opportunity to apply for the state coordinator position, with the understanding that he or she would become a federal employee upon acceptance.
The purpose of the state coordinator position is to ensure adequate support and service is provided to both the state program and the selected establishments so they meet the requirements outlined in the Title V agreement. (With both federal government and most states facing tremendous budget pressure, it may not be prudent to suggest additional employees–the duties should be integrated into an existing position.)
Periodic visits are made to verify compliance, but more important to inquire and determine what additional support or service could be provided to better operate under this agreement. The frequency of visits does not need to be addressed, since the frequency will vary based on a wide variety of factors.
Emphasize the state coordinator position is to work with state personnel to make the program effective, not another layer of supervision. This would also include having a state employee designated as the primary contact to work with the federal coordinator in verifying compliance with Title V.
Need to make clear that inspectors are supervised by the state supervisor–not the state coordinator. State personnel have direct responsibility for regulatory actions and if the state coordinator notes deficiencies not detected by state personnel, they will request the state inspector in charge to initiate the appropriate regulatory action.
The state director will determine the qualification necessary for “designated personnel.” The training and certification required varies greatly depending on the species and type of products slaughtered and/or processed in the plants covered by that individual. State directors know the skill level and training qualifications of their personnel, and in turn, who has the necessary credentials for plant assignments. This is the system that is successfully used for state inspectors currently assigned to Talmidge-Aiken and Cross-Utilization federal plants.
Since these “selected” plants are still state plants, and are under state control, the
duties of the state coordinators should be that of like an “auditor” of the state program. Their goal is to get a snapshot of what and how the plant is doing at each visit that is made, to be sure they are operating on an “equal to” basis. It has been suggested that the state coordinator could function as a frontline supervisor. The states already have their equivalent of frontline supervisor doing those duties. It would be very confusing to a plant to have multiple people representing multiple agencies telling them what to do. Believe that if state programs and selected plants are “equal to” then the coordinator’s job should be to certify this.
This is opportunity to incorporate the state programs into eADRS, AssuranceNet, and the up-and-coming public health information system that is being rolled out. This would allow state coordinators to be able to keep track of what’s happening in the selected plants without having to learn as much of the state’s paperwork and records-keeping systems (since each have their own versions). If this were allowed, then possibly the state coordinators would not have to physically visit as frequently, and the states would finally be able to use some of the FSIS computer resources for record-keeping. A win-win situation?
The state coordinator may not necessarily need to be a full-time position. It might be efficient to have one coordinator for several states or a region.
IV. Quarterly Reports
Key Issues & Questions: The State Coordinator will provide quarterly reports that describe the “status” of plants on their level of compliance with the Act.
A quarterly report would merely contain a list of establishments operating in compliance under Title V. This can be done with a simple check-off sheet. If an establishment is not in compliance, it should detail why. The reports submitted to the U.S. secretary of agriculture shall also be sent to the state meat and poultry inspection program manager at the same time, and the state program shall keep the information confidential.
Specific violations shall be reviewed by the state coordinator and the state meat and poultry inspection program manager before an establishment can be deselected.
No establishment shall be deselected if they requested training or education from the technical assistance division and the training or education was not provided prior to identifying the violations.
Again, if the states are allowed onto the FSIS systems (eADRS, etc.) the state coordinator could utilize this information to generate reports and state managers would also have a wealth of reports they can generate, the same as any other federal plant.
V. Enforcement Actions and/or Deselection
Key Issue & Questions: If the State Coordinator finds any plant in violation of the Act, then he/she will notify the Secretary and deselect the plant or suspend inspection. What is the process for deselection or suspension of inspection?
If a violation of this Act occurs, the coordinator would immediately inform the state director and Secretary to consider what action is necessary to re-establish compliance. If an establishment does not correct the violation, i.e. retains more than 35 employees, then the establishment would be de-selected. Any enforcement action initiated pursuant to this section shall be taken by the U.S. secretary of agriculture or his designee.
Before a selected establishment is deselected, or deemed to be in violation of any requirement of this act, the establishment shall have the right to request a hearing under the administrative procedures act. Deselection shall mean that the establishment is no longer eligible to ship meat interstate or to use the federal mark. Deselection shall not affect an establishment’s ability to register with the state agency to sell or ship meat intrastate. (Note: In the legislation, paragraph “(h) Violations” is in direct conflict with paragraph “(d)(3)(c)(ii)” “deselect the selected establishment or suspend inspection at the selected establishment.” This inconsistency was discussed with FSIS during the FSIS/State Directors conference call in June and they stated that they were aware of this issue and in agreement with this recommendation.)
If a state decides to suspend or deselect its own state plant, then FSIS should have no say. Deselection or suspension of a selected state establishment by FSIS should follow the procedures they use for federal establishments, i.e. violation of the Rules of Practice spell out procedures for egregious acts, or an FSA by a federal EIAO (in conjunction with the state EIAO) for cause that generates a NOIE, etc.
An establishment may voluntarily withdraw from the program by providing notice to the U.S. secretary of agriculture and the state meat and poultry inspection agency.
Procedures developed under §501(b)(3)(a) providing for transition of a state-inspected establishment to a federally inspected establishment shall be developed in cooperation with the state agency.
VI. Mark of Inspection
Key Issues & Questions: Products shipped in interstate commerce will have a federal inspection label. Are any special label requirements needed? If so, what?
Selected state-inspected facilities would have the option to put their state abbreviation before or after their establishment number in the federal mark to identify the product’s state of origin. For example: KS248 or 248KS.
Barring this option, have some other provision available for selected facilities to identify their product’s state of origin within the federal mark of inspection.
Only the product being shipped in interstate commerce be marked with the federal inspection legend. All other product produced in the establishment may retain the use of the state mark of inspection.
If a state has been determined to be operating “equal to”, product labels should be acceptable to FSIS.
VII. Funding and Costs
Key Issues & Questions: The Secretary shall reimburse a state for not less than 60 percent of eligible state costs related to inspection. What inspection activities are eligible costs? How will funding be tracked and determined? Inspectors will most likely be assigned both Title V and Title III establishments – how will the 60% of “eligible state costs” be tracked?
FSIS should fund 60% of the cost of the entire program for those states that sign up for Title V. Alternatively, fund the program 60% the cost based on the percent of plants that sign up for Title V, i.e. if a state has 300 plants and inspection is granted to 100 plants for Title V, then 33% of the total federal funding would increase an additional 10%.
If FSIS makes the determination that time tracking is necessary it should be tracked the same way inspectors’ time is tracked when they are at federal cross-utilization plants. The time is tracked on their state time sheets, and multiple other mileage sheets, etc. Each state currently has a system to track their inspectors’ time for the Title III requirements of their federal grants, therefore, it should be up to the states on how to track this time as well. All states receive federal audits, so if they are not doing something right, they are held accountable.
VIII. Technical Assistance
Key Issues & Questions: The Secretary shall establish within FSIS a technical assistance division to coordinate initiatives and provide outreach, training, and education for “very small or certain small” establishments. The Secretary may provide grants to state agencies for these activities. What are the specific duties/activities of the technical assistance division? How should “very small or certain small” plants be defined? What is the grant process?
For the technical assistance division to coordinate outreach, training and education for “very small or certain small” establishments, there is already a definition of “very small plants” which should be used.
IX. Other Issues & Potential Problems
Some states do not issue grants of inspection, they issue licenses. Would FSIS issue a grant to a selected establishment?
Some states have made certain animal amenable, but that are not considered amenable by the FMIA and PPIA. What impact would this have on reimbursement, inspection, the application of a federal legend to the product, etc.?