Meat and Poultry Dialogue

Outdated meat and poultry food-safety laws and regulations threaten the U.S. food supply and public health. In 2014, players across the sector rallied together to propose changes to the status quo.

According to a 2011 study, contaminated beef, pork, and poultry sicken 2.8 million Americans every year, costing over $5.7 billion annually. In an effort to bring food safety laws and regulatory standards for U.S. meat and poultry into the 21st century, in 2014 The Pew Charitable Trusts and Cargill launched an effort to reconcile widely varying views on updating them. Guided by a small, cross-sector planning team, Meridian led stakeholders and experts from across the meat and poultry industry to reach consensus on policy recommendations.

Since the 1990s, foodborne pathogens in meat and poultry have caused disease outbreaks, serious illness, and numerous deaths. Many blame outdated and inflexible policy: laws governing meat and poultry production and inspection standards were enacted by Congress in 1906 and 1957, respectively. They were designed for a different era of agriculture — a time when visual inspection of carcasses was the best monitoring technology available.

Pew and Cargill saw an increasingly critical need for policy changes in meat and poultry oversight. They believed that a multi-stakeholder dialogue process would most effectively kick-start modernization, but they also knew that food safety conversations provoke contention and high emotion. They needed someone who would establish an efficient dialogue process, ensuring that all voices were heard—and that disagreements were managed fairly. 

Pew selected Meridian based on our track record overseeing similarly complex and emotionally charged policy negotiations. After completing an initial assessment, we led the Meat and Poultry Dialogue Group to consensus; they formally released a set of Recommendations to Modernize the Meat and Poultry Oversight System in the United States in 2017.

Assessing the Feasibility of Consensus

Underlying laws governing food safety in the U.S. meat and poultry industries date back to 1906 and 1957, respectively. Before 2014, no coordinated collaboration among stakeholders had devised updates to these laws and their accompanying regulatory standards.

When the opportunity to modernize these rules arose, so did a wide range of questions. What would this process entail? Was the timing right? Who should it involve? What might the resulting recommendations look like? Who was the intended audience?

When Pew and Cargill asked Meridian to assess the feasibility of a productive dialogue, we set out to find answers. With assistance from a planning team, we selected an additional 30 key players who could shed light on opportunities for collaboration and offer their perspectives from various vantage points:

  • meat and poultry production chains
  • academia
  • trade associations
  • public health representatives
  • consumer advocacy groups

In confidential interviews with each group, we heard about the current meat and poultry food safety oversight system and barriers to its improvement—as well as opportunities for reform. We covered substantive, political, economic, and technical issues. Interviewees shared preliminary thoughts on policy changes and suggested participants for the multi-stakeholder Meat and Poultry Dialogue Group.

From these interviews, a shared vision for the future of the meat and poultry food safety oversight system began to take shape. A consensus process, although challenging, was within reach.

 

Reaching Consensus

The Meat and Poultry Dialogue demonstrated that consensus building requires careful, persistent effort. After completing an initial assessment, we worked with a planning team to select 12 additional experts who would join them in the 20-member Meat and Poultry Dialogue. Members included:

  • companies across the meat and poultry production chain
  • researchers and scientists
  • food safety advocates
  • public health organizations
  • labor groups
  • food retailers

During six in-person meetings, we facilitated conversations in which the group asked tough questions and examined issues from multiple angles. Consensus demanded buy-in from all participants, fueled by thorough discussions of gaps and potential solutions in the meat and poultry safety oversight system. The conversations addressed food safety throughout the supply chain, including:

  • production
  • slaughter
  • processing
  • storage
  • distribution
  • retail and food service

The group also questioned how to best assess risks and ensure that relevant data is collected, evaluated, and shared. The planning team regularly gathered informal input on the recommendations from the meat and poultry regulatory audience. As policy recommendations took shape, we oversaw small working groups that built out specific subsections of the overall report.

With astute guidance, observation, and close documentation, Meridian brought the group to consensus on a visionary set of Recommendations to Modernize the Meat and Poultry Oversight System in the United States. The group released the recommendations in 2017, addressing policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels—as well as industry representatives and other stakeholders. This collaboration marks the first successful effort to reconcile widely varying stakeholder views on U.S. meat and poultry laws and regulations.

Project Team

Learn more about the team that led the ­Meat and Poultry Dialogue project.