We’ve already written about the impact that sequestration’s across-the-board cuts will have on food safety. With many food safety inspectors going on furlough, inspections will need to be cut back significantly, making it harder to keep contaminated food off the shelves. Consumers are understandably troubled, and now it seems that even the meat industry is concerned enough about this problem to write to the President.
In their letter to the President, the American Meat Institute stated that the industry cannot provide safe, nutritious, and affordable meat and poultry without federal food inspectors. The letter goes on to say that, by statute, the USDA is required to provide food inspection services and they would like the Secretary to examine all the options available and develop a plan to provide inspection services, by suggesting that he, “furlough nonessential agency personnel.”
This letter is notable because the meat industry – normally not a big fan of government regulation – is openly admitting that they cannot keep our meat safe without the government’s food safety programs. This is particularly ironic, given that the industry is currently campaigning heavily for a new USDA rule that would weaken safety standards by allowing poultry plants to speed up their processing lines from 140 birds to a maximum of 175 birds per minute. This new rule would mean even more work for safety inspectors, who are already expected to inspect nearly three birds every second.
In truth, the meat industry is scared of the legal implications of sequestration - without the necessary food safety inspectors, meat and poultry plants may have to close temporarily, and closing means losing profits.
Even so the letter is a rare and welcome admission from the meat and poultry industry that food safety rules and regulations are vital to keeping our food safe. But it also puts into perspective just how badly our inspection system will be stripped down. If industry itself is asking for more adequate patrolling, it is glaringly obvious that the very integrity of our food system is on the line if these cuts take place.
Co-written with US PIRG Public Health Advocate Nasima Hossain