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UK Makes Meat Industry Pay Its Own Way: Should We?

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the United Kingdom may be about to do something that would be unthinkable in the United States—making the meat industry pay for the inspection services it needs to operate.

Through next Feb. 1, FSA is seeking “consultation on proposals to charge the UK meat industry the full cost of official controls on meat.”  FSA says it is “keen to hear the views” of all on its plan to make the British meat industry pay for controls on meat.

With a cost-cutting coalition government, FSA plans to make recommendations to government ministers to cut what it considers to be a subsidy to meat industry when taxpayers pay for regulation and save millions of British pounds.

That kind of thinking, however, is not likely to get far in the U.S.–even with 40 cents out of every dollar the U.S. government now spends being borrowed money.  

Dr. Richard Raymond, the immediate past Under Secretary for Food Safety at USDA, says the Food Safety & Inspection Agency in round numbers is a $1 billion a year organization with 9,500 employees.  And about 7,500 of those do the “daily, continuous” in-plant USDA inspections required by law.

Raymond knows well what would happen if there were any attempt to shift those costs from taxpayers to the meat and poultry industries.  The $832 billion U.S. meat and poultry industry is not likely to agree to pick up the $1 billion it costs to service those 6,032 federally inspected meat and poultry slaughtering and processing plants.

Raymond tried a far less dramatic cost shift of his own when he was Under Secretary.   He wanted Congress to require licensing of the federally inspected plants, and wanted authority for FSIS to issue fines to recoup its costs of policing the bad actors.

Neither idea got out of the starting gate.  

Raymond says getting the meat and poultry industry to pay for something that has been free for over 100 years would be near impossible.  He says there would also be consumer opposition from those who see meat and poultry inspection as a basic government obligation.

Federal meat and poultry inspectors would also likely oppose going to a fee-for-service funding system, Raymond says.  “They do not want to hear some plant manager or owner say ‘do this because I am paying your salary.’ “

In the UK, veterinarians and meat hygiene inspectors in slaughterhouses, meat cutting plants, and game handling establishments are responsible for “official controls.” The controls, which are a legal requirement under European Union law, help ensure that the businesses meet their legal obligations on meat hygiene and animal welfare.

FSA is responsible for the controls in the UK, and under the current system the agency charges businesses for some, but not the full costs, of delivering services.  FSA says it “subsidizes” the industry for the remaining amount, which is picked up by British taxpayers.

Since November 2009, the FSA Board of Directors has been on record in wanting to eliminate the subsidy.

FDA says it recognizes higher fees are a “concern to Industry,” and it is committed to:

  • A phase-in approach to full cost recovery.

  • Ongoing reform to reduce the costs of controls.

  • Capping small business charges at 70 percent of full costs.

  • Changes at the EU level to reduce costs.

Food Safety News sought comment from the American Meat Institute (AMI) about using fees to pay for inspection services, but did not hear back before press time.

© Food Safety News
  • jmunsell

    I’m totally opposed to having meat plants pay the cost of inspection, for several reasons.
    First of all, the Federal Meat Inspection Act mandates inspection of meat which is intended for resale. Since the feds mandate such inspection, which protects public health, the federal government must pay the cost via taxpayer dollars.
    Secondly, in the 34 years I owned a USDA-inspected plant, I witnessed a horrendous misuse of taxpayer dollars by the USDA bureaucracy, partly because of multiple overlapping layers of duplicative bureaucrats/overseers, most of whom are dead wood. If the industry is forced to pay for such unaccountable excess, the industry must be allowed to eliminate such crazy government abusive misuse of taxpayer dollars. If plants are forced to pay for such idiocy, then yes, the inspectors must be treated as company employees, and do as they are instructed by their new employer, i.e., the meat plant.
    Should FSIS be allowed to issue fines to recoup its costs for policing bad actors, as suggested above? My perception: absolutely not! Why? Because the agency has historically classified the downstream further processors as the “bad actors”, while insulating the source slaughter plants from accountability for introducing pathogens into the meat supply in the first place. Supreme Beef, and my plant, are but two of hundreds of examples. If enteric bacteria such as E.coli & Salmonella (which originate in animals’ intestines) are detected at downstream establishments (such as meat processing plants, restaurants, retail meat markets, cafeterias, etc), FSIS is perfectly content to commence and conclude its investigations at the DESTINATION of contaminated meat, while adroitly avoiding tracebacks to the SOURCE of contamination. So, FSIS will continue to portray the victimized DESTINATION facilities as the “bad actors”, and utilize its full enforcement hammer against destination facilities whose primary “fault” is thinking that the USDA Mark of Inspection has any value.
    FSIS is paralyzed with fear of litigation emanating from the meat industry’s multinational behemoths, should the agency ever be audacious enough to focus its epidemiological investigations and enforcement actions at the slaughterhouse SOURCE of enteric bacteria. As long as such illogic and corruption persists at FSIS, the agency cannot be trusted to decide who the “bad actors” are.
    An insidious portion of this dilemma is the fact that while FSIS minimizes its oversight of the largest packers, saving payroll costs, it simultaneously conducts an inordinately intensive scrutiny of small plants. While the agency has deregulated the largest plants, FSIS also hyper-regulates the small plants, many out of existence. How? By utilizing a degree of scrutiny at the small plants which is never implemented at the large plants, an incentive for small plants to close their doors. FSIS enjoys conducting intensive FSA’s at small plants, for lengthy periods, while artfully dodging close scrutiny at the small plants. Example: about 3 years ago, when EIAO’s commenced FSA’s, the agency sent two EIAO’s to a very small plant in Columbus, MT. The total time the agency dedicated to this FSA was ten weeks and 3 days, and concluded with one minor NR for paperwork deficiencies. Terrible waste of USDA funds, but who cares? For these ten weeks, at least the EIAO’s were prevented from harassing any large plant. I’d like to provide current statistics, which continue to reveal the agency’s unethical scrutiny of small plants, while ignoring the largest industry players.
    During the first 6 months of this year, FSIS issued 43 NR’s at the Cargill plant in Fort Morgan, CO, 35 at Tyson’s plant in Amarillo, TX, 38 at the National Beef plant in Dodge City, and (get this) only 5 at the Swift plant in Greeley, CO. These plants kill thousands daily. With these documented statistics in hand, guess how many NR’s have been issued against the previously-mentioned VERY SMALL plant in Columbus, MT? As of two weeks ago, our “science based” agency has issued 103 NR’s against the Columbus plant. Incredibly disproportionate enforcement actions, wouldn’t you agree? If indeed the very small plant in Columbus MT has 20 times as many problems as the huge facility in Greeley, CO, the Montana plant must be producing feces-contaminated meat every hour of the day, and should be shuttered. Well, it is NOT producing unsafe meat, and FSIS is fully cognizant of this fact; nevertheless, the agency uses the Montana plant as a whipping boy, as it does to many other small plants, while ignoring insanitary conditions on kill floors at the fast chain speed industry behemoths.
    Therefore, you can see how subjective, politically-science based decisions at FSIS will quickly “prove” that the bad actors are the small plants, most of which do not slaughter (thus have no intestines or manure-covered hides on their premises). Therefore, all costs to implement increased scrutiny and enforcement actions will be assessed against, yup, you guessed it, these downstream small plants which unwittingly purchase previously-contaminated meat from their source slaughter providers.
    Frankly, agency misbehavior is a national scandal. Just like Watergate and Monicagate, USDA’s HACCPgate will eventually be publicly revealed. Only after this occurs, will we witness a decrease in outbreaks and recalls. Fortunately, the current team of Tom Vilsack, Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, Administrator Al Almanze and policy guru Dr. Daniel Engeljohn displays the willingness to traceback to the force, and then Force the Source to clean up its act. Only time will tell if this team can survive inevitable legal challenges emanating from the largest packers. I am not optimistic of the outcome.
    This entire scenario begs for a contemporary Upton Sinclair. Only this time, the book’s focus will not be on the industry, but on USDA/FSIS which lacks the courage to Force the Source, preferring instead to Destroy the Destination, which the agency likewise considers to be the “bad actors”.
    Sometimes science is stranger than fiction.
    John Munsell, Manager
    Foundation for Accountability in Regulatory Enforcement (FARE)
    November 13, 2010

  • John Munsell

    I’m totally opposed to having meat plants pay the cost of inspection, for several reasons.
    First of all, the Federal Meat Inspection Act mandates inspection of meat which is intended for resale. Since the feds mandate such inspection, which protects public health, the federal government must pay the cost via taxpayer dollars.
    Secondly, in the 34 years I owned a USDA-inspected plant, I witnessed a horrendous misuse of taxpayer dollars by the USDA bureaucracy, partly because of multiple overlapping layers of duplicative bureaucrats/overseers, most of whom are dead wood. If the industry is forced to pay for such unaccountable excess, the industry must be allowed to eliminate such crazy government abusive misuse of taxpayer dollars. If plants are forced to pay for such idiocy, then yes, the inspectors must be treated as company employees, and do as they are instructed by their new employer, i.e., the meat plant.
    Should FSIS be allowed to issue fines to recoup its costs for policing bad actors, as suggested above? My perception: absolutely not! Why? Because the agency has historically classified the downstream further processors as the “bad actors”, while insulating the source slaughter plants from accountability for introducing pathogens into the meat supply in the first place. Supreme Beef, and my plant, are but two of hundreds of examples. If enteric bacteria such as E.coli & Salmonella (which originate in animals’ intestines) are detected at downstream establishments (such as meat processing plants, restaurants, retail meat markets, cafeterias, etc), FSIS is perfectly content to commence and conclude its investigations at the DESTINATION of contaminated meat, while adroitly avoiding tracebacks to the SOURCE of contamination. So, FSIS will continue to portray the victimized DESTINATION facilities as the “bad actors”, and utilize its full enforcement hammer against destination facilities whose primary “fault” is thinking that the USDA Mark of Inspection has any value.
    FSIS is paralyzed with fear of litigation emanating from the meat industry’s multinational behemoths, should the agency ever be audacious enough to focus its epidemiological investigations and enforcement actions at the slaughterhouse SOURCE of enteric bacteria. As long as such illogic and corruption persists at FSIS, the agency cannot be trusted to decide who the “bad actors” are.
    An insidious portion of this dilemma is the fact that while FSIS minimizes its oversight of the largest packers, saving payroll costs, it simultaneously conducts an inordinately intensive scrutiny of small plants. While the agency has deregulated the largest plants, FSIS also hyper-regulates the small plants, many out of existence. How? By utilizing a degree of scrutiny at the small plants which is never implemented at the large plants, an incentive for small plants to close their doors. FSIS enjoys conducting intensive FSA’s at small plants, for lengthy periods, while artfully dodging close scrutiny at the small plants. Example: about 3 years ago, when EIAO’s commenced FSA’s, the agency sent two EIAO’s to a very small plant in Columbus, MT. The total time the agency dedicated to this FSA was ten weeks and 3 days, and concluded with one minor NR for paperwork deficiencies. Terrible waste of USDA funds, but who cares? For these ten weeks, at least the EIAO’s were prevented from harassing any large plant. I’d like to provide current statistics, which continue to reveal the agency’s unethical scrutiny of small plants, while ignoring the largest industry players.
    During the first 6 months of this year, FSIS issued 43 NR’s at the Cargill plant in Fort Morgan, CO, 35 at Tyson’s plant in Amarillo, TX, 38 at the National Beef plant in Dodge City, and (get this) only 5 at the Swift plant in Greeley, CO. These plants kill thousands daily. With these documented statistics in hand, guess how many NR’s have been issued against the previously-mentioned VERY SMALL plant in Columbus, MT? As of two weeks ago, our “science based” agency has issued 103 NR’s against the Columbus plant. Incredibly disproportionate enforcement actions, wouldn’t you agree? If indeed the very small plant in Columbus MT has 20 times as many problems as the huge facility in Greeley, CO, the Montana plant must be producing feces-contaminated meat every hour of the day, and should be shuttered. Well, it is NOT producing unsafe meat, and FSIS is fully cognizant of this fact; nevertheless, the agency uses the Montana plant as a whipping boy, as it does to many other small plants, while ignoring insanitary conditions on kill floors at the fast chain speed industry behemoths.
    Therefore, you can see how subjective, politically-science based decisions at FSIS will quickly “prove” that the bad actors are the small plants, most of which do not slaughter (thus have no intestines or manure-covered hides on their premises). Therefore, all costs to implement increased scrutiny and enforcement actions will be assessed against, yup, you guessed it, these downstream small plants which unwittingly purchase previously-contaminated meat from their source slaughter providers.
    Frankly, agency misbehavior is a national scandal. Just like Watergate and Monicagate, USDA’s HACCPgate will eventually be publicly revealed. Only after this occurs, will we witness a decrease in outbreaks and recalls. Fortunately, the current team of Tom Vilsack, Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, Administrator Al Almanze and policy guru Dr. Daniel Engeljohn displays the willingness to traceback to the force, and then Force the Source to clean up its act. Only time will tell if this team can survive inevitable legal challenges emanating from the largest packers. I am not optimistic of the outcome.
    This entire scenario begs for a contemporary Upton Sinclair. Only this time, the book’s focus will not be on the industry, but on USDA/FSIS which lacks the courage to Force the Source, preferring instead to Destroy the Destination, which the agency likewise considers to be the “bad actors”.
    Sometimes science is stranger than fiction.
    John Munsell, Manager
    Foundation for Accountability in Regulatory Enforcement (FARE)
    November 13, 2010