A committee of the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies of Sciences released a report Wednesday entitled “The Potential Consequences of Public Release of Food Safety and Inspection Service Establishment-Specific Data,”  recommending that FSIS publicly release establishment-specific food-safety information.

The report discusses several major findings and makes a number of conclusions as follows:

  • Publicly releasing Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) establishment-specific data would increase transparency to stakeholders and further the public’s “right to know.”
  • FSIS would benefit from consulting with other federal agencies that already disclose facility-specific information.
  • Publicly released establishment-specific data could provide incentives for establishments to protect brand reputation; create economic pressure to improve food safety; allow consumers to make more-informed decisions; and provide better insights into different food-safety practices.
  • Adverse effects associated with public data disclosure–for example, the risk of inadvertently releasing confidential information; the costs of designing and maintaining an information system; and public misinterpretation of information released–do not outweigh the benefits gained by posting establishment-specific information online.
  • Data disclosures need to be guided by a carefully designed information-disclosure strategy subject to continuous improvement.
  • Publicly releasing establishment-specific information “is expected to result in improvement to food-safety efforts on the part of the industry and government and ultimately to result in beneficial public-health outcomes.

The full report can be obtained at www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13304.

 The National Chicken Council, National Turkey Federation, and U.S. Poultry & Egg Association highlighted in a press release a number of possible costs or unintended consequences of public release of establishment-specific data, as outlined in the report iteself.  Possible costs and unintended consequences include the financial commitment associated with designing and maintaining a useful data-disclosure system; the drawing of inappropriate conclusions as a result of misinterpretation of the data; adverse effects on international trade; the risk that proprietary or confidential information could be deduced from the data; and adverse effects on inspector performance.

“We believe that all of these concerns are valid and were not adequately addressed in the final report.  They clearly merit more attention than what the committee recommended,” the groups said. “And without proper context, there is concern that this massive amount of vague information will be subject to misinterpretation and confusion that could needlessly alarm consumers and our trading partners.”

“A strong food safety system is the number one priority of the poultry industry,” the groups continued.  “But as the report itself states, ‘It is not possible to make a direct causal link between public data access and specific food-safety improvements…’”

The press release in its entirety is available at www.nationalchickencouncil.com/pressroom/pr_detail.cfm?id=172.