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05TEGUCIGALPA2390 2005-11-25 22:26:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Tegucigalpa
Cable title:  

USDA Finds No Fault with Honduran Meat Inspections

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E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: USDA Finds No Fault with Honduran Meat Inspections

1. This is an action request: please see para 7.

2. Summary: USDA inspectors have found the GOH beef plant
inspection system to be sound and noted no serious health
violations in the two Honduran plants that currently export
to the U.S. Inspectors were favorably impressed with the
exhaustive records kept by GOH inspectors and laboratory
personnel, but noted that because all records are hand-
written in paper ledgers, they are nearly useless for future
statistical analyses. Post requests (see para 7) that a
modest sum from Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary trade capacity
building funds be allocated to assist the GOH to automate
food safety records keeping. For a small sum of money, such
an investment would help protect the health of the U.S.
consumer, while promoting the key foreign economic policy
goals of trade and prosperity. End summary.

3. Following a week of on-site inspections in Honduras, the
U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection
Service (FSIS) has found few concerns in the GOH inspection
regime for plants exporting beef to the U.S. The
inspection, part of an annual audit, sought to verify
equivalence of the GOH inspection regime with U.S.
standards. This is generally done by conducting spot checks
jointly with the GOH in a random subset of all plants, to
verify that GOH inspectors adequately note any health code
violations. In the case of Honduras, only two plants
currently export to the U.S., so both plants were inspected.
Inspections were carried out jointly with the GOH plant and
animal health authority SENASA.

4. Inspectors reported finding only "trivial" matters for
correction, and noted that most were corrected immediately,
in the presence of the inspectors. Violations noted
included dust collecting on overhead wires and in storerooms
in the packing plants, a lack of paper towels in the locker
rooms, and an under-temperature sterilizer. There was also
one "humane handling" violation, when it was noted that
bolts protruding into the cattle pen could harm the animals.
The bolts were immediately trimmed.

5. No Notices of Intent to Decertify (NOIDs) were issued by
SENASA during these inspections. NOIDs are warnings of more
serious violations and require remedial action within 30
days. One NOID had previously been issued against a
Honduran plant in December 2002, but that violation was
corrected within the stipulated time period and the plant
was re-certified by SENASA.

6. USDA inspectors noted that the Honduran producers are in
compliance with U.S. standards, but that they "are doing it
the hard way." For example, a required flow chart of the
meat packing process -- generally 10 to 15 steps in the U.S.
-- was nearly 100 steps long in the case of one Honduran
plant. Since each step in the chart must undergo hazard
analysis, this generated considerable additional and
unnecessary work for the plant. The inspectors provided the
plant with additional guidance.

7. Action request: Inspectors also examined SENASA's
laboratory, finding that it was orderly and sufficient,
though "far from state of the art." One concern was noted,
though it violates no standard or regulation: the lab's
records of analyses are thorough, but are all hand-written
in paper ledgers, making the data all but useless for future
statistical analyses, including risk profiling. Post
requests that serious consideration be given to allocating a
modest amount of available trade capacity building funding
for information technology equipment and/or training to
automate records keeping in this vital area. Such a program
would require only a small investment, and would further
protect U.S. consumers from food borne illnesses, while also
promoting regional trade and prosperity in Honduras.