Profile and Background: History of meat exports to the US.
The history of meat equivalence dates to 1997, when the Dominican Republic was still exporting meat to the United States. At that time, the prices of the meat trade at the national level were more attractive to ranchers than the profits from exports to the United States. This reality coincided with the introduction of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regulation, for which the country did not prepare for. Both factors led to the country losing the opportunity to export meat products to the United States by 1999.
The new export permit required by the FSIS required certain changes in the meat processing system such as the implementation of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system in each meat processing plant, and the implementation of a standardized cleaning system, among many others. In 2003, under these circumstances and under the direction of Dr. Kasse Acta, a first unsuccessful attempt was made to restart exports.
In 2012, the country requested equivalence once again. However, the country did not submit the revision of the Self Reporting Tool (SRT) questionnaire to the United States until May 2017. This questionnaire was the first step in formalizing the request to achieve equivalence in exporting meat products to the United States.
The SRT consists of a series of questions, with respective official documentation. This is to demonstrate that the Dominican meat inspection system has a robust legal basis, similar or equivalent to that of the United States.
In 2017, interaction with US authorities began once again, at which time changes were made to official documents and concerns regarding Dominican meat processing practices were clarified.
Finally, in December 2019, the FSIS communicated that the Dominican Republic had achieved meat equivalence, and in March 2020 a visit to the country was scheduled to deliver the Equivalence. Due to the onset of COVID-19, the process was postponed until July 2021. The visit was scheduled again for September 2021 and after that, a final report is prepared that gives way to the certification, which is finally issued in April of 2022.
The great challenge for the Dominican Republic to regain authorization to export meat to the United States was the implementation of an efficient food safety scheme that complied with FSIS requirements.
The Safe Agriculture/Food Export (SAFE) Project, operating locally as Strengthening the Dominican Livestock Value Chain (ProGana), provided vital technical support for the implementation of the state food safety scheme.
Since its inception in 2015, the project, has been a great help to the Dominican government. More than resources, the State needed support and ideas to achieve efficient implementation of a food safety scheme adapted to international standards.
ProGana, through its implementing partner the League of Cooperatives of the United States (CLUSA) and The Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture of Texas A&M University, worked hand in hand with the Meat Unit of the General Directorate of Medicines, Food and Health Products of the Ministry of Public Health, (DIGEMAPS). Their consistent visits, along with communication and constant monitoring by the specialists were examples of the strategic contributions made by ProGana.
These specialists were able to identify weaknesses within the system and gave pertinent suggestions on how to overcome these setbacks. It was thanks to the wise recommendations of American consultant Victor Cook, that a network of laboratories was created, along with a team of state auditors dedicated to complying with the established requirements regarding food safety.
Cook was visionary in recommending the use of international laboratories to complement the work of local laboratories in certifying safe handling at processing plants. This recommendation was later validated by the US authorities in the evaluation reports of the process to achieve equivalence.
Recovering the authorization to export meat to the United States required changes in established methods and the building of an efficient food safety scheme. The construction of such a scheme required:
- Hiring new personnel and training them in inspection tasks at authorized establishments.
- The preparation and implementation of 27 official procedures.
- The preparation of more than 40 forms, to make administrative work in slaughterhouses more efficient.
- Ensure that private meat processors comply with the regulations of the new food safety scheme.
- Get processors to develop their own procedures, validate them and implement them.
- Create a national and international network of laboratories to analyze samples that certify safe handling throughout the process. This was one of the requirements that took the longest; from 2017 to August 2018, when it began work with other laboratories in addition to the Central Veterinary Laboratory, LAVECEN.
Targeted support from ProGana
- ProGana began conducting an analysis of previous evaluations of the USDA/FSIS, the Beef Inspection System (BIS), and the country’s beef and dairy value chains. In 2017 they joined the “Equivalence Round Table” led by the Dominican Association of Landowners and Farmers (ADHA). This round table was made up of stakeholders from the public and private sectors, including beef producers, the Dominican Association of Processing Plants (ADM), the three largest processing plants (Mercarne, Agrocarne and Suplidora A&B) and other relevant agencies…
- A fundamental support provided by ProGana consultants was the follow-up and review of the answers of the self-assessment tool (SRT), as the first step to achieving equivalence. They were reviewed and adapted to Dominican standards by Dr. Rori Aaron.
- Regarding the laboratories, ProGana consultants helped create the audit team to improve SPS’s laboratory systems. The Ministry of Health, through DIGEMAPS, requested for the appointment of three external auditors trained by FSIS experts in the prevention of conflicts of interest. Such internal audits would be to verify that the practices of third-party laboratories meet FSIS requirements.
- ProGana has leveraged more than US$1.5 million in investments from the private sector.
- Facilitated the development and improvement of 11 policies, regulations, and procedures for stakeholders of the equivalency process
- Identified counterfeit and/or poor-quality inputs and provided alternatives to farmers.
- Conducted comprehensive trainings for all components of the Meat Inspection System (BIS) including: FSIS requirements, Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), Risk Management, Animal Welfare, Hazard Analysis, and Critical Control Points (HACCP), Best Manufacturing Practices (BMP), SPS, Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOP), Sanitary Dressing Procedures (SDP), and many other food safety and sanitation topics.
- Helped develop political will for a risk-based system, as well as train officials in risk management and surveillance systems.
- ProGana promoted the empowerment of producer groups such as ASOCARNE (National Association of Beef Cattle Producers), and slaughterhouse suppliers.
“In short, ProGana has been a vital pillar for the Dominican Meat Inspection System, in achieving this long-awaited goal.”
- Dr. Jaime Santoni, Manager of the DIGEMAPS Meat Unit
The Dominican meat inspection system was audited by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and it was determined that the control of the Dominican government is equivalent, that is, it has the same result as the control of the United States government.
In other words, the Dominican Republic can guarantee, in the same manner that the US government guarantees, that the raw beef that reaches the Dominican table and markets in the United States is safe.
Having obtained equivalence with the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), so that raw beef exports to the United States are re-enabled, is the major achievement highlighted in this success story. However, this approval also allows us to export other types of meat, as well as non-meat products. Currently, equivalence will allow industrial meat for grinding to be exported to the United States, along with select sliced meats.
Soon, plants in the Dominican Republic will be able to open requests to export hamburgers and ground beef, among other cuts. As the system has already completed its first phase, the requirements for new cuts will be minimal. In fact, the intent of achieving equivalence is to also expand this system into products such as pork, poultry, and egg-derived products.
Having reached equivalence is also an incentive for livestock production that will lead to increased demand and stable prices. The increase in livestock production at a general level will benefit dairy farming as well. The livestock industry will be strengthened and automated, which in turn will generate more sources of employment.
For the Dominican Government, this achievement represents the creation of new employment opportunities, strengthening of trade, as well as of the livestock industry. After achieving equivalence, the Dominican Republic guarantees safe meat products to the Dominican people and American consumers.
The Safe Agriculture/Food Export Project (SAFE), operating locally as Strengthening the Value Chain of Dominican Livestock (ProGana); is a seven-year project funded by the Food for Progress Program (FFPr) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). It is executed by the National Cooperative Business Association/Cooperative League of the USA (NCBA CLUSA) and a consortium of six local and international partners.
This project seeks to strengthen Dominican cattle and pig farming in the provinces of Dajabón, Greater Santo Domingo, El Seibo, Hato Mayor, La Altagracia, Monte Plata, Puerto Plata, San Juan de la Maguana, and Santiago Rodríguez.
It uses training, financial services, and organizational strengthening to increase production, quality, application of sanitary standards, and the commercialization of the products of both industries.