U.S. Food safety cuts "make no sense"

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Food safety oversight budget cuts

U.S.D.A. Inspection

PRESIDENT’S F.Y. 2010-11 REQUEST: $1.036 BILLION

HOUSE VOTED: $930 MILLION

F.D.A. Food Safety

PRESIDENT’S F.Y. 2010-11 REQUEST: $856 MILLION

HOUSE VOTED: $727 MILLION

New York Times Editorial – March 6, 2011

The House has voted to cut $106 million from the president’s request for $1.036 billion for meat inspections by the Department of Agriculture. That money would help pay for the inspectors who oversee the 6,300 plants that process the nation’s meat and poultry supply.

To ensure the safety of these products, inspectors must be on site at all times. 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.

After recent problems with tainted peanut butter, spinach, nuts and eggs, Congress gave the Food and Drug Administration new authority and responsibility to monitor food safety. The House’s $129 million cut would seriously impede its ability to do that job, putting the health of American consumers at risk. We are all for savings, but these proposed cuts make no sense at all.

Original article on New York Times website

Comments

Shortly after the U.S. Congress passed legislation giving the FDA greatly increased powers – including the strongest whistleblower protection measures ever – the House cut the budgets of both agencies responsible for overseeing the food supply (the FDA and the USDA).

This is an example of the shell game that governments play with oversight watchdogs, using three main techniques to stop them from becoming troublesome: 1) providing toothless legislation 2) starving them of resources 3) putting people in charge who can be relied upon not to make waves.

This is a shell game because any one of these three techniques can effectively muzzle the watchdog. So the government can claim to be strengthening oversight (e.g. by passing stronger laws) while at the same time slashing the agency's budget or putting in place a suitably tame leader.

David Hutton