The Potential Consequences of Public Release of Food Safety and Inspection Service Establishment-Specific Data

• • • • • • • • • • • • LEE-ANN JAYKUS, Chair, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina JULIE A. CASWELL, University of Massachusetts Amherst JAMES S. DICKSON, Iowa State University, Ames JOHN R. DUNN, Tennessee Department of Health, Nashville STEPHEN E. FIENBERG, NAS, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania WILLIAM K. HALLMAN, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick GINGER ZHE JIN, University of Maryland, College Park GALE PRINCE, Sage Food Safety Consultants, LLC, Cincinnati, Ohio DONALD W. SCHAFFNER, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick KATHLEEN SEGERSON, University of Connecticut, Storrs CHRISTOPHER A. WALDROP, Consumer Federation of America, Washington, DC DAVID WEIL, Boston University, Massachusetts

Statement of Task
A study committee will examine the potential food-safety benefits and other consequences of making establishment-specific data sets publicly available on the Internet. For each type of establishment-specific data set provided to the committee, the study will: ▫ Identify the likely positive and negative impacts or trade-offs of making the data available to the general public, including how factors such as public level of aggregation, timing of release, level of completeness, and characterization of the data or context in which the data are presented might affect their utility in improving food safety. safety ▫ Examine potential ways that food-safety benefits and other effects of publicly posting the data might be measured. measured The committee will prepare a brief report of its findings.

Study Rationale
• Government policy on openness and transparency (Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, 2009) • Requirement to post high-quality data (OMB Memorandum for Heads of Departments and Agencies, 2009) • Requirement to develop plan to make regulatory compliance data publicly available (Memorandum on Regulatory Compliance, 2011) • Cost of complying to FOIA requests • National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection recommendation to obtain guidance from NAS

Study Approach
• Focused on Sampling and Testing data and Inspection and Enforcement data • Reviewed evidence of effects of posting establishmentspecific data based on experiences of other agencies • Drew conclusions about the potential consequences of release of FSIS establishment-specific data • Addressed more specific issues regarding release of Sampling and Testing data and Inspection and Enforcement data

•There are 2 broad purposes for public release of regulatory data:
•The public’s “right to know”-- public access to information about the activities of government is basic to democratic governance •“Targeted transparency”-- disclosure may serve as a means of achieving specific public policy objectives

• The committee concluded that both those purposes (“right to know” and “targeted transparency”) are relevant to the desire of FSIS to release establishmentspecific data and that an effective disclosure policy will contribute to increased transparency to stakeholders. In addition, releasing establishment-specific data might also favorably affect public health in ways whose assessment could be contingent on the development of measures specifically designed to evaluate the effects.

• There are several examples in which federal, state, or local agencies release detailed data that are directly linked to the performance of individual facilities or firms or to their products. In many cases, those data originate from regulatory activities. Three relevant examples were reviewed:
▫ The US DOL (Mine Safety and Health Administration) ▫ The US-EPA (Enforcement and Compliance History Online or ECHO) ▫ Several state/local public-health departments (restaurant hygiene and inspection grading).

• The committee concluded that FSIS would benefit from consultation with those agencies and could build on their effective practices when designing a public-data release program.

• Literature suggests that release of establishmentspecific data can have important benefits, such as:
▫ Allowing consumers to make more informed choices ▫ Motivating firms to improve performance, at least along the disclosed dimensions, which may lead to:
Incentives to protect brand reputation, and/or enhance customer base and profitability Economic pressure to improve food safety Enhanced performance benchmarking

▫ Providing better insights into strengths and weaknesses of different processing practices which could lead to industry-wide improvements in food-safety practices; ▫ Improving the consistency of inspector performance ▫ Generating research opportunities

• The committee concluded that public release of establishment-specific FSIS data, by themselves or in combination with other privately or publicly available data, could yield valuable insights that go beyond the regulatory uses for which the data were collected.

• The committee concluded that the available evidence of adverse effects of public release of establishment-specific data by other government agencies is insufficient to predict specific problems that would be inherent in the release of establishment-specific data by FSIS.

• Potential costs or unintended consequences that might be associated with public release of establishment-specific data were identified:
▫ The potential to draw inappropriate conclusions because of data misinterpretation, especially if appropriate context is not provided; ▫ Potential to encourage firms to improve in the reported areas, at the expense of unreported outcomes; ▫ Additional financial commitment associated with designing and maintaining a useful data disclosure system; ▫ Potential adverse effects on
Inspector performance Brand reputation International trade; and

▫ The unintended release of proprietary or confidential information

Unintended consequences might adversely affect some stakeholders, but other groups might not consider these consequences as adverse.

• On the basis of its review of information and its deliberations, the committee concluded that there are strong arguments supporting public release of establishment-specific FSIS data, especially data that are subject to release under FOIA, unless there is compelling evidence that it is not in the public interest to release them.

• The committee concluded that to maximize its effectiveness and minimize its potential for adverse unintended consequences, data disclosure needs to be guided by a carefully designed information-disclosure strategy. • The committee also concluded that effective disclosure systems are designed to allow continuous improvement as users gain a better understanding of how the data might be used and as the agency responds to stakeholder input.

• An effective information disclosure strategy would consider:
Data uses and users; Data integrity (accuracy, timeliness, utility); Data presentation, including facilitation of third-party analysis; The need to provide precise and appropriate definitions of each data type and adequate documentation of context (to mitigate the potential for misinterpretation of data); ▫ The need to provide precautions to prevent the linking of portions of the data in ways that would allow users to deduce confidential information about particular establishments. ▫ How to ensure that the data are continuously updated and improved. ▫ A plan for periodic stakeholder input to understand their needs and concerns. ▫ ▫ ▫ ▫

• The committee believed that FSIS establishment-specific Sampling and Testing data were amenable to public release as long a disclosure plan is established and followed. • Because of their subjective nature, committee members expressed different views about the implications of releasing establishmentspecific Inspection and Enforcement data.
▫ A minority noted that minimizing the potential adverse consequences of releasing this type of data would be challenging, citing concerns about inspector variability, the potential for misinterpretation of the data, and confidentiality issues. ▫ The majority believed strongly that public access to this type of data could be beneficial in identifying inspector variability and ultimately facilitating more uniform performance.

• The committee believed that public release of establishmentspecific FSIS data would be expected to result in improvement in food safety efforts on the part of industry and government, ultimately having beneficial public-health outcomes. • In the absence of a means by which to make a direct causal link between public data access and specific food safety improvements, the committee concluded that other outcomes of public release of establishment-specific data are available and that documenting those outcomes could provide insights into the relationship between data release and food safety, e.g.
▫ Intermediate metrics (e.g., data trends, incidence of positive pathogen testing results) ▫ Metrics of data use (e.g., # Web downloads, # peer-reviewed reports generated from the data, documented changes to industry practices)

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