Header graphic for print

Food Safety News

Breaking news for everyone's consumption

The Cost of Cutting Food Safety

“There’s no money for . . .” well you name it. At a time when all manner of government services are being cut, trillions in bailouts to the financial services industry aside, why should food safety be spared? In fact, food safety protections are being systematically slashed across the board–and while this might achieve some short-term savings, the long-term costs could be catastrophic.

cutting-budgets-350.jpg

On January 9, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it would close 259 offices, laboratories and other facilities to save $60 million in its $145 billion budget. These closings include five of the 15 Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) offices. FSIS is responsible for ensuring meat, poultry and egg safety. USDA undersecretary Dr. Elisabeth Hagen said, “There will be no reduction in inspection presence in slaughter and processing facilities and no risk for consumers.” Unfortunately, previous inspector cutbacks and FSIS rules to limit the number and detail of inspector reports on industry non-compliance do put consumers at risk, as a recent 36-million pound meat recall attests.

Aside from closing offices, the budget cutting axe has weakened agencies in charge of protecting public health. In November, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration stated it cannot afford to withdraw the many animal drugs used non-therapeutically in livestock feed to promote growth and prevent disease.  Non-therapeutic use, resulting in meat laced with antibiotic residues, is a factor in increasing human antibiotic resistance. FDA, responding to petitions by medical associations and non-governmental organizations, the first of which were filed in 1999, alleged that the withdrawal of just one drug used in poultry production took five years and $3.3 million, due to industry legal resistance.  Instead, FDA proposes to begin a program with animal drug manufacturers to phase-out some drugs voluntarily. Keep Antibiotics Working (KAW), a coalition to which IATP belongs, wrote to FDA protest that the decision violated FDA’s public health mandate. 

In September, USDA announced that budget cuts would curtail or end data collection and reporting on pesticide use on fruits, vegetables and in livestock pens by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). NASS surveys are used to help formulate food and farm worker safety policy. In November, NASS announced cutbacks to its survey of pesticide and fertilizer use on field crops. Non-governmental organizations protested the cutbacks, saying that the public would be forced to rely on pesticide and fertilizer companies for unverified reporting about agricultural chemical use. 

Our thin budgetary margin for error in curtailing the spread of foodborne illness was brought home forcefully by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC (and its state partners, especially in Colorado) took justifiable pride in tracing back a Listeria monocytogenes infection to the packing facility of a melon farm in Colorado just 10 days after the initial hospital report of listeriosis, which had led to 29 deaths by the end of November.

Thomas Frieden, the CDC director, noted in a recent speech that his agency had absorbed the biggest budget cuts in its history in 2010 and 2011. (The U.S. House of Representatives is promising further cuts to the 2012 budget.) Furthermore, “there are 44,000 fewer people working at the state and local level because of the fiscal crisis” in the public health professions.  As a result, in Colorado, college students used their own cell phones and a CDC questionnaire to interview those afflicted with listeriosis. The students helped to trace back to a single farm the source of the Listeria, doing work that had previously been done by public health officials.

  

“How many more cuts to food safety?” — before students equipped with cell phones and a CDC questionnaire cannot trace back the source of foodborne illness before many more than 29 people die?

  

It should not take a spike in death or illness from foodborne disease to shock us into recognition that food safety is not cheap, nor can food safety be self-regulated among competing companies.  Systematic failure to regulate the financial services industry resulted in ongoing bailouts that have forced FDA and other agencies to claim that rules to protect public health are too expensive, despite plenty of evidence to show the economic and human suffering costs of food safety failures.

————————–

Dr. Steve Suppan has been a policy analyst at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) since 1994.

© Food Safety News
  • http://www.johnmunsell.com jmunsell

    FSIS closure of 5 of its 15 District Offices will NOT reduce the level of inspection at slaughter and processing plants. However, it will thin the ranks of paper-pushing bureaucrats in remote locations. Plants will still have three levels of inspection. Because line inspection has been diminished, and auditing of paperwork has greatly increased under HACCP, I’m not sure we need ANY District Offices anymore. We don’t need supervisors to supervise supervisors who supervise supervisors who supervise supervisors who supervise inspectors. Three levels of inspection is enough, and District Offices are a throwback to the days when America’s economy flourished and we enjoyed black ink. In those days, government bureaucracy was allowed to greatly increase, because we had all those surplus tax dollars laying around which we used to create do-nothing, duplicative layers of wasteful bureaucracy. John Munsell

  • http://www.johnmunsell.com John Munsell

    FSIS closure of 5 of its 15 District Offices will NOT reduce the level of inspection at slaughter and processing plants. However, it will thin the ranks of paper-pushing bureaucrats in remote locations. Plants will still have three levels of inspection. Because line inspection has been diminished, and auditing of paperwork has greatly increased under HACCP, I’m not sure we need ANY District Offices anymore. We don’t need supervisors to supervise supervisors who supervise supervisors who supervise supervisors who supervise inspectors. Three levels of inspection is enough, and District Offices are a throwback to the days when America’s economy flourished and we enjoyed black ink. In those days, government bureaucracy was allowed to greatly increase, because we had all those surplus tax dollars laying around which we used to create do-nothing, duplicative layers of wasteful bureaucracy. John Munsell

  • http://opitslinkfest.blogspot.com/ opit

    If the FDA can’t get rid of a known promoter of antibiotic resistant disease you can figure how much use they really are.
    It adds to a chain of systemic problems in a petroleum based pharming system already perverted by GM foods and dependence on herbicides to which nature is already adaxxpting with so-called ‘superweeds.’ Coal ash is spread on crops – a radioactive toxic
    waste from burning coal.
    http://opitslinkfest.blogspot.com/2009/12/31-dec-food-farming-poison-misplaced.html
    Some time ago, before figuring ouxxt that tossing sustainable farming practices which provided nutritious food was as least as vital a problem, I posted a couple of collections based on the thoughts of a raw milk activist and another by a retired Ohio farmer – both blogs found through my membership at Care 2.
    http://opitslinkfest.blogspot.com/2009/08/green-acres-food-and-junk-food-post.html
    http://opitslinkfest.blogspot.com/2009/08/environment-sickening-practices.html
    Lack of Vitamin D and challenged immune systems ( indiscriminate batch vaccination ) add to a resultan biowarfareviasystemicdesign. Normal regulation is becoming irrelevant. It is however, predicated on the wish of big industry to freeze out small competition by immersing them in regulation in which they cannot survive – or offer an alternative to the huge batches of homogenous product spat out by industrial production.
    Regulation…has done its real job.

  • peter castellano

    Does anyone know if there has been any move in the private sector–on the part of the actual regulated companies producing food–to voluntarily contribute to the FDA’s inspection budget, or to take voluntary steps to increase the safety of their company’s food production and delivery? After all, it’s in the best interest of any company…it would build brand loyalty as consumers would feel safe buying that company’s products. Surely successful profitable companies can afford to contribute a bit of their profits to help the FDA in this way, no? Am i being naive?