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Letter From The Editor: Run J. Patrick, Run!

During the past week, Food Safety News brought readers the details on the proposal for food safety funding in President Obama’s $3.7 trillion budget.

Helena Bottemiller, our capitol correspondent, reported the President was putting FDA in for an additional $170 million for food safety, while trimming USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service back by $8 million.

How these recommendations will hold up in Congress remains to be seen.

One number caught my eye–only $11 million in FSIS fees would come from the beef, pork, and poultry industries. To put that into context, consider the fact that in 2009 the retail value of beef alone was $73 billion.

If my math is correct, that would make 2011-12 fees total 0.015 percent of the 2009 retail sales for just beef.  J. Patrick Boyle is acting all outraged about that.

Perhaps due to the tiny reliance on fees, the actual amount for meat inspection will decline to $889 million, down from $904 million.

Boyle, president and chief executive officer of the American Meat Institute, hates fees.  “If passed, these fees would ultimately pick the pocket of the American consumer, who already has been taxed once for the operating budget of government’s food safety program.  Meat inspection is a mandated federal program which benefits public health and should be paid for by the federal government,” Boyle says.

J. Patrick, you are so full of it.  But to keep myself in line with the publisher’s new rules, let me say Mr. Boyle is a savvy Washington D.C. insider who does a superb job for the meat industry.

Still — my truck is inspected annually under a mandated state safety program, and I pay for it.

J. Patrick knows that for every dollar FSIS needs to provide continuous USDA inspection service at the more than 600 federal establishments that serve AMI clients, forty cents has to be borrowed from somewhere–usually China. 

Talk about “picking the pocket of the American consumer!”   It will take 30 or 40 years before the full cost of inspection service is paid off.

Let me say it again. The food safety system should not be funded out of the general fund.    It’s too erratic, and too dependent on debt.  Fees that, yes, will be passed on to consumers should fund it, or most of it.

AMI takes great pride in the fact that it has beat down the implementation of fees that were proposed by past administrations and it will go about doing it again with the Obama budget.

But it is a dinosaur move. The smart move is getting out of being a general fund dependent and subsidized industry. The smart move is running from that as fast as you can.

© Food Safety News
  • jmunsell

    I agree that FSIS’ budget must be provided from the federal budget, not from user fees, but for reasons totally different than posed by Patrick Boyle. For decades, I have personally witnessed how FSIS has consistently wasted and misspent its budgetary dollars. In 2010, as an example, the agency purchased countless new cars for its field force, when the existing cars were working well, yet replaced them with vehicles which are not always fuel efficient……just to spend all of its budgeted dollars, and to “stimulate” our economy. Also, we’ve seen only too many times 3 – 4 inspection personnel walking through very small plants, a parade of highly-paid gov employees trying to find something to do. I could write a book how USDA eggregiously wastes taxpayer funds through travel expenses of overlapping levels of bureaucrats & supervisors, in which one supervisor watches over another supervisor who likewise is monitoring another supervisor who is watching an inspector’s in-plant activities. And folks think small plant owners should be responsible to finance this travesty of economic accountability?
    I am waiting for a contemporary Upton Sinclair to document the countless examples of how USDA has unethically targetted small plants for closure, not only here in Montana, but across the country. When the small plants disclosure inappropriate agency behavior to congressional delegations, the media, and to the agency itself, USDA responds by sending teams of “investigators” to review the allegations. After investing countless $ to this sham, the agency creates white-washed reports which summarily coverup all unethical agency misdeeds. USDA has used this diabolical system in a grandious way since 2005 here in Montana.
    USDA knows that if small plants are required to finance USDA’s oversight, that most small plants will drop federal inspection, or close their doors altogether, which is the agency’s precise goal! With fewer plants to inspect, USDA can dramatically reduce its inspection force, and use the budgetary savings to create additional overlapping levels of supervisory bureaucrats, all in new vehicles of course.
    The agency itself has stated that 93% of USDA-inspected plants are small and very small. These plants produce only 10% of our meat. Therefore, only 7% of USDA plants produce 90% of our meat. 88% of feedlot beef are killed at the Big 4 packers. Because of the enormous production at these multinational behemoths, their budgets can survive user fees. And since this oligarchy has more control in establishing prices paid for live animals, and more control in pricing finished products, they can more successfully pass on to the consumer the increased costs emanating from user fees.
    So, if America wants to rid itself of small plants, increase its dependency on the largest plants (which are multinational), and increase our dependency on imported protein of questionable quality and origination, yes indeed, let’s press for user fees. Let’s close down the majority of small American plants, and hire other countries to raise an increasing % of the meat we eat.
    There is another side to this user fee debacle, in addition to what Patrick Boyle states. AMI’s position is primarily to promote the interests of the large and medium sized plants. My position is to explain how user fees impact small plants, most of which are not AMI members. These small plants are part of the backbone of rural, agricultural communities, have limited marketing territories, and are an essential link in America’s agricultural continuum. We can’t afford to lose them, merely to finance USDA’s blatant misuse of budgetary funds.
    John Munsell

  • doc raymond

    Good Sunday morning, Mr. Flynn. Couple thoughts come to mind that i feel the need to thoughtfully comment on without becoming personal or a “troll”. AMI members may have 600 plants that FSIS inspects, but the total for the meat and poultry industry that needs that nearly one billion dollar budget for federal inspection is close to 6,000 establishments. And then there are the 27 State Inspection programs whose budgets are supplemented by FSIS out of that one billion.
    The $11 million truly is a pittance compared to $1 billion, so why is AMI so concerned? Because most of those “fees” would come from plant owners paying for the additional inspection that comes from Food Safety violations or foodborne illnesses linked to the plant. It also covers the cost of FSIS going into an establishment to assess why the wrong product was shipped to the wrong country, causing that plant to be taken off the export list. Why should the tax payers have to have their pockets picked to pay the extra cost FSIS absorbs when they make an error.
    I have blogged before on this, and also use my driving a car to make my point. I do not mind having to pay taxes to have police officers on the road, helping to guarantee my safety by enforcing the law. But I do not want to have to pay the extra cost the state encounters when the officers have to investigate an accident caused by a drunk driver, etc. I do believe the driver that violates the law should pay a fine, just like I believe a plant that thumbs its nose at Food Safety should pay a fine.
    But every time I write that in a blog, the “trollers” emerge and challenge the lineage of my children.

  • Michael Bulger

    Are the fees scaled based on plant size? (I’m wondering whether large plans can/do pay large fees, while smaller plants are able to operate without having to dole out fees too large for them to compete in a fair market?)
    Any response, from someone more versed than I, would be appreciated. I am occupied writing an analysis of a book on West African rice culture and its contribution to South Carolina rice history. Good info on the fee-scaling will be met with a tidbit on African rice history… 😉

  • doc raymond

    Meat and Poultry plants pay NO fees as of right now. A version of registration fees and fees for extra investigative work based on sample positives, recalls, outbreaks linked to plant, shipping errors, etc, are introduced almost annually by Democratic and Republican Administrations. When I was there, the registration fee was most definitely based on size, and was minimal for very small plants. But that is not who J Patrick is speaking for, of course.

  • doc raymond

    Sorry, but another thought just struck me that might interest your readers and enlighten them as to the vagueries of the Federal Budget process. The FSIS budget is higher than the funding from tax dollars that the Administration is requesting,because FSIS gets around 15% of its total budget from charging for overtime inspection and for inspection of Bison. Yep, Bison were not included in the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906, so for the last century if a Bison producer wanted to ship interstate, s/he had to pay FSIS for the inpsection. A fee, I guess, but AMI never came to their rescue, because the fee drives up the cost of buffalo meat, making it less competitive with all the other four-leggers that we consume meat from.
    And if a large plant wants to run two shifts (16 hours) the inspection is free. But if a small plant needs 10 hours to complete its day, the extra two hours tacked onto the first shift is billed by FSIS for overtime fees.
    Fees are already assessed and being paid by some, just not all.
    .

  • jmunsell

    I’d like to respond to Dr. Raymond’s reference to “paying for the additional inspection that comes from Food Safety violations or foodborne illnesses linked to the plant”. End quote. I felt that agency actions at my plant subsequent to the discovery of E.coli 0157:H7 in burger in 2002 was unique to my plant, in that the agency intentionally hung my small plant out to dry, while virtually ignoring the SOURCE of the E.coli (ConAgra in Greeley, CO). In later years, I discovered that the agency regularly targets small plants for increased enforcement actions and scrutiny, even though in most cases these small plants innocently purchase previously contaminated meat. Simultaneously, the agency adroitly avoids tracing back to and determining the true SOURCE of contamination, that is, the big slaughter plants, which frequently are AMI members.
    USDA/FSIS demands to be unaccountable for its actions; likewise, it is a willing accomplice with the largest slaughter establishments which also want to be unaccountable for meat contaminated at its facilities.
    So, if additional agency costs for reacting to outbreaks and recalls are to be billed to a meat establishment, we must ensure that the true SOURCE of contamination pay the bill, not the victimized downstream further processing establishment which purchased meat which had been previously contaminated with invisible pathogens. And of course, such meat is shipped into commerce bearing the USDA mark of inspection which states “USDA Inspected and Passed Est. # xyz”. Since USDA inspects and passes e.coli-laden meat, allowing it to be shipped into commerce, it could be argued that the agency itself is more of a culprit than the originating slaughter plant which unwittingly cross-contaminated carcasses on their kill floors.
    By intentional agency design, the accountability system is hopelessly broken, and the agency now desires to pick the pockets of innocent downstream destination facilities.
    Sometimes “science” is stranger than fiction.
    As long as we defer to USDA’s claim to utilize allegedly scientific practices in meat inspection, we take another step to make small plants endangered, while providing a blank check to the largest plants to do as they wish.
    Sleep well tonight! FSIS is.
    John Munsell

  • Michael Bulger

    Thanks for the info! Much appreciated. Now, as promised…
    Judith Carney’s Black Rice is convincing in its argument that an independent sophisticated rice culture evolved in West Africa prior to European influence. The West African system of irrigation and processing and, to a degree limited by the oppression of slavery, the gendered labor roles associated with rice, were all transferred to the South Carolina plantations of the 17th and 18th centuries. Without the knowledge and technologies of the slaves, South Carolina rice would not have established itself as strongly, if at all. Once the cultivation systems were understood and consolidated by the planters, the slaves lost a crucial bargaining tool (their knowledge) and the conditions of their enslavement worsened considerably.
    Enjoy the rest of your Sunday.

  • Doc Mudd

    Why, as a taxpayer, should I be soaked because some boutique “small plant” and its belligerent owner/operator insist upon habitually being an expensive prized pain in the shorts; obfuscating the inspector in his/her work, objecting to routine testing, ranting and raising heck all up and down the bureaucratic food chain with paranoid time-wasting accusations, dodging personal responsibility by blaming and concocting conspiracy theories, supporting and selling out to professional anti-agriculture, pro-starvation activist organizations whose sole agenda is to harass and ultimately derail a functioning food system and to prevent effective traceability back to the cow-calf source, all of these political shenanigans intentionally costing taxpayers only more money and endangering their safety in the process?
    Why should I, as an ordinary citizen, even have to put up with that juvenile nonsense, much less be made to pay for any of it?
    Have them pay their way or shut the ridiculous griping ‘small plants’ down – they don’t actually produce anything, just grind a bunch of purchased meat together and shape it into patties for resale with an eye to overcharging me for them at the market. They certainly don’t merit any special monetary breaks and definitely no silly ‘size appropriate exemptions’ from safety practices or anything else. I’m beyond fed-up with the grasping sense of entitlement some of these yokels lord over us all.
    If a processing plant of any size or scale takes up 10 hours of an inspector’s time, charge them for the full 10 hours plus travel plus perquisites plus something set aside in the kitty for when the plant messes up and needs to be fined – make it a good stiff fine, take part out of the kitty and the rest in cash or money order on the spot to speed these guys along the learning curve. They seem to need all of that kind of help we can give. Exemptions and special treatment they already enjoy in excess.
    Just my humble opinion as a taxpayer around here. I hear there’s a recession on, and we can’t afford to be so generous with the handouts anymore. Just sayin’

  • John Munsell

    I agree that FSIS’ budget must be provided from the federal budget, not from user fees, but for reasons totally different than posed by Patrick Boyle. For decades, I have personally witnessed how FSIS has consistently wasted and misspent its budgetary dollars. In 2010, as an example, the agency purchased countless new cars for its field force, when the existing cars were working well, yet replaced them with vehicles which are not always fuel efficient……just to spend all of its budgeted dollars, and to “stimulate” our economy. Also, we’ve seen only too many times 3 – 4 inspection personnel walking through very small plants, a parade of highly-paid gov employees trying to find something to do. I could write a book how USDA eggregiously wastes taxpayer funds through travel expenses of overlapping levels of bureaucrats & supervisors, in which one supervisor watches over another supervisor who likewise is monitoring another supervisor who is watching an inspector’s in-plant activities. And folks think small plant owners should be responsible to finance this travesty of economic accountability?
    I am waiting for a contemporary Upton Sinclair to document the countless examples of how USDA has unethically targetted small plants for closure, not only here in Montana, but across the country. When the small plants disclosure inappropriate agency behavior to congressional delegations, the media, and to the agency itself, USDA responds by sending teams of “investigators” to review the allegations. After investing countless $ to this sham, the agency creates white-washed reports which summarily coverup all unethical agency misdeeds. USDA has used this diabolical system in a grandious way since 2005 here in Montana.
    USDA knows that if small plants are required to finance USDA’s oversight, that most small plants will drop federal inspection, or close their doors altogether, which is the agency’s precise goal! With fewer plants to inspect, USDA can dramatically reduce its inspection force, and use the budgetary savings to create additional overlapping levels of supervisory bureaucrats, all in new vehicles of course.
    The agency itself has stated that 93% of USDA-inspected plants are small and very small. These plants produce only 10% of our meat. Therefore, only 7% of USDA plants produce 90% of our meat. 88% of feedlot beef are killed at the Big 4 packers. Because of the enormous production at these multinational behemoths, their budgets can survive user fees. And since this oligarchy has more control in establishing prices paid for live animals, and more control in pricing finished products, they can more successfully pass on to the consumer the increased costs emanating from user fees.
    So, if America wants to rid itself of small plants, increase its dependency on the largest plants (which are multinational), and increase our dependency on imported protein of questionable quality and origination, yes indeed, let’s press for user fees. Let’s close down the majority of small American plants, and hire other countries to raise an increasing % of the meat we eat.
    There is another side to this user fee debacle, in addition to what Patrick Boyle states. AMI’s position is primarily to promote the interests of the large and medium sized plants. My position is to explain how user fees impact small plants, most of which are not AMI members. These small plants are part of the backbone of rural, agricultural communities, have limited marketing territories, and are an essential link in America’s agricultural continuum. We can’t afford to lose them, merely to finance USDA’s blatant misuse of budgetary funds.
    John Munsell

  • John Munsell

    I’d like to respond to Dr. Raymond’s reference to “paying for the additional inspection that comes from Food Safety violations or foodborne illnesses linked to the plant”. End quote. I felt that agency actions at my plant subsequent to the discovery of E.coli 0157:H7 in burger in 2002 was unique to my plant, in that the agency intentionally hung my small plant out to dry, while virtually ignoring the SOURCE of the E.coli (ConAgra in Greeley, CO). In later years, I discovered that the agency regularly targets small plants for increased enforcement actions and scrutiny, even though in most cases these small plants innocently purchase previously contaminated meat. Simultaneously, the agency adroitly avoids tracing back to and determining the true SOURCE of contamination, that is, the big slaughter plants, which frequently are AMI members.
    USDA/FSIS demands to be unaccountable for its actions; likewise, it is a willing accomplice with the largest slaughter establishments which also want to be unaccountable for meat contaminated at its facilities.
    So, if additional agency costs for reacting to outbreaks and recalls are to be billed to a meat establishment, we must ensure that the true SOURCE of contamination pay the bill, not the victimized downstream further processing establishment which purchased meat which had been previously contaminated with invisible pathogens. And of course, such meat is shipped into commerce bearing the USDA mark of inspection which states “USDA Inspected and Passed Est. # xyz”. Since USDA inspects and passes e.coli-laden meat, allowing it to be shipped into commerce, it could be argued that the agency itself is more of a culprit than the originating slaughter plant which unwittingly cross-contaminated carcasses on their kill floors.
    By intentional agency design, the accountability system is hopelessly broken, and the agency now desires to pick the pockets of innocent downstream destination facilities.
    Sometimes “science” is stranger than fiction.
    As long as we defer to USDA’s claim to utilize allegedly scientific practices in meat inspection, we take another step to make small plants endangered, while providing a blank check to the largest plants to do as they wish.
    Sleep well tonight! FSIS is.
    John Munsell

  • jmunsell

    My, my Doc Mudd, I’ve never been subjected to such a barrage of negative adjectives in my entire life. You almost convinced me I should be ashamed to ever have been a part of the industry of small meat plants. “Yokels”? Never produce anything? So, small plants who slaughter & process really don’t produce anything. Interesting.

  • John Munsell

    My, my Doc Mudd, I’ve never been subjected to such a barrage of negative adjectives in my entire life. You almost convinced me I should be ashamed to ever have been a part of the industry of small meat plants. “Yokels”? Never produce anything? So, small plants who slaughter & process really don’t produce anything. Interesting.

  • Doc Mudd

    None of us are indispensable, John.
    So, yeah, we could easily get by with fewer resellers, including ‘small’ ones. The industry pros will close the ranks without a hiccup in product flow.
    If that reduces economic waste in the inspection process, then I’m all for it. This PO’d taxpayer is beginning to look very favorably upon the continued industry consolidation we have all been conditioned to despise and fear. Turns out the bad actors aren’t all ‘govt & big ag guys’ and the fabled purity & loyalty of the ‘small guys’ is pretty fleeting, when you can glimpse it.
    My rant was more generic than you realize, but if the shoe fits…