In a Sunday editorial, the New York Times questioned the wisdom of budget cuts to food safety programs. This despite budget woes everywhere. The Times notes that meat inspection would be deprived of $88 million, and the FDA would lose $242 million in funding, though not all of that money would have gone to food safety and surveillance.
“To ensure the safety of these products, inspectors must be on site at all times,” the editorial reads.
If they’re not, the plant must stop work. House Democrats say the budget cuts would require 37 to 40 furlough days for many of the 8,600 inspectors. Even a conservative estimate would put the loss of meat and poultry production at about $11 billion over the next seven months — a very large dent in the $177 billion annual business. It could also make a large dent in Americans’ household budgets, as reduced supplies drive up costs.
More recently, the USDA Inspector General, in testimony before the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, stated that meat inspection identifies far too few instances of E. coli O157:H7 in meat given the likely much larger actual pathogen load.
As the Times noted, “We are all for savings, but these proposed cuts make no sense at all.” Democrats in the Senate, after signaling a paradigm shift recently by passing the Food Safety Modernization Act, responded sharply in a statement last week:
“The House CR not only includes draconian cuts to specific programs, it also includes a rescission of unspecified obligations by the amount of $585 million from the Department of Agriculture. These unnamed cuts are on top of rescissions the House already took in specific programs, leaving USDA the task of taking cuts from ongoing programs that have already been cut to unsustainable levels.”
“This would result in large-scale reductions of domestic and foreign inspections of food and drug manufacturers, including 2,000 fewer inspections of food and medical product firms, 10,000 fewer import inspections, and 6,000 fewer laboratory sample analyses of food and medical products. Essentially, the ability of the Agency to ensure that America has the safest supply of food and medical products in the world would be diminished.”