When readers of The Post are warned not once, but in two separate articles, to eat meat "at your own risk," {"Meat Inspector: Eat at Your Own Risk," May 15; "At Own Risk," May 22} our agency gets concerned. For we are the federal agency responsible for meat and poultry inspection, and we believe consumers have every reason to believe in the safety of these products.

The meat and poultry inspection program is one of the most comprehensive public health programs in the world -- with nearly 8,000 dedicated public servants watching over our meat and poultry supply in more than 7,000 meat and poultry plants under federal inspection in every state and territory.

It is because of our significant record of achievement that I am very concerned about public comments made recently by a few of our inspectors. I take seriously charges that appropriate decisions are being overturned and that inspectors who complain are harassed, as contended by Mr. Vernie Gee at a recent congressional hearing. But I believe that these assertions have little basis in fact.

We care deeply about what our inspectors say, and therefore we carefully check out every charge of mismanagement or corruption. But what type of corrective action can we take against a charge that says ". . . the flies have been getting meaner, the roaches fatter and the rats bolder"? Good headlines, yes. Good evidence, no.

At the same hearing where Mr. Gee spoke, I presented testimony discussing the development of the modern meat inspection program and the steps we have taken to keep up with a technologically advanced industry and a sophisticated consuming public. Some of the advances we have made have not been popular with the inspectors on the line because the advances have taken the focus off the inspectors' senses as the sole means of judging the adequacy of a product.

The eyes, nose and hands of the inspector are no longer all that is needed. Today, we must make use of such sophisticated concepts as "hazard analysis and critical control points" and chemical analyses to ensure we are adequately protecting the public.

The recent study by the National Academy of Sciences on poultry inspection -- one that we requested for guidance -- did cite problems with the current inspection system. But they are the same problems that we have been wrestling with for the past decade.

The report concluded that poultry inspection needs to be broader, more flexible and more scientific. As opposed to advocating more inspectors on the line spending more time on each bird, the report recommended a more scientific examination of a well-defined randomly selected group of birds. This change would require congressional approval.

The academy found no evidence that increased line speeds, which accompany the introduction of modern inspection procedures, have reduced the quality of the inspected product. In addition, the academy could not find data to prove that dry-chill methods would result in less bacterial contamination than the currently used water-chill baths, the focus of so much criticism lately.

Let me assure you that today's poultry is safe to eat if handled and cooked properly. I wish we could provide every consumer with raw poultry that is free of bacteria, but that is impossible. We do know that most of the food-poisoning outbreaks are caused by improper food handling, and therefore we have an active public outreach program, encouraging consumers and food service workers to cook their poultry thoroughly and avoid cross-contamination of raw poultry with other foods. DONALD L. HOUSTON Administrator, Food Safety and Inspection Service U.S. Department of Agriculture Washington