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White House: Sequestration Would Mean Big Cuts to Food Safety Inspections

If Congress allows the sequester to kick in on March 1, cuts to food safety would be one of the “most damaging” consequences of the automatic budget reductions, according to a memo put out by the White House on Friday.

The analysis by the Obama administration’s Office of Management and Budget said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could conduct 2,100 fewer inspections at domestic and foreign food facilities and the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service could have to furlough all employees for approximately two weeks to meet the across the board budget cuts.

“These reductions could increase the number and severity of safety incidents, and the public could suffer more foodborne illness, such as the recent salmonella in peanut butter outbreak and the E. coli illnesses linked to organic spinach, as well as cost the food and agriculture sector millions of dollars in lost production volume,” read the memo.

The document says the cuts put families “at risk.”

Potential public health impacts aside, the U.S. meat industry would come to a stand still because plants are not allowed to operate without FSIS inspectors on hand.

According to the Hagstom Report (subscription only), last week Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called the sequester “horrible policy” and cited the impact to food safety as one example.

“As soon as you take an inspector off the floor, that plant shuts down,” said Vilsack. According to the report, Vilsack added that removing inspectors even for a short period of time could impact several thousand workers and would severely impact meat prices and supply.

The Obama administration also listed a number of other potential consequences to the automatic cuts, including kicking off 70,000 young children from the Head Start preschool program, eliminating funding for 7,200 special education teachers, aides, and staff, and reducing loan guarantees for small businesses by up to $450 million.

“There is no question that we need to cut the deficit, but the President believes it should be done in a balanced way that protects investments that the middle class relies on,” said the White House in the memo.

According to the OMB’s estimates, the sequestration will require an annual reduction of roughly 5 percent for nondefense programs and roughly 8 percent for defense programs, but because the cuts will be felt over 7 months instead of a full year, the effective percentage is actually 9 percent for nondefense and 13 percent for defense.

Whether leaders in Washington will eventually strike a deal to avoid the sequester remains to be seen.

Photo by Alice Welch, courtesy of USDA.

© Food Safety News
  • This could possibly impact the health and well being of our nation’s school children, I hope there’s a contigency plan or workaround solution

  • Richard Raymond

    While I believe sequestration is a fool’s way to avoid having to make specific cuts that make sense in an effort to balance a budget out of control, I do not buy into the statements that there is a public health risk from a decline in food safety activities. The White House memo mentions the peanut butter fiasco and the E coli outbreak related to organic spinach as examples of the types of outbreaks we might see if FDA money is cut. But wait just a minute, doesn’t our President realize those outbreaks occurred while FDA was “properly” funded? And as for meat and poultry safety, there just is no sense in what the memo is implying. If you lay off inspectors the plants have to close. Period. No meat or poultry products produced without the current layer of inspection. The plant owners suffer, the consumers suffer higher prices, the 42 day old broilers suffer if no slaughter plants are open, etc., but any meat sold was inspected by USDA.  

  • WashburnBill

    Don’t we already have sufficient propaganda from the White House without the help of Food Safety News and the CLFP?
    All the president needs to do to avoid the sequestration is to make the long overdue reductions in the budget. It’s hard to believe that the White House believes their own propaganda or they would be working harder to avoid sequestration rather than trying to lay all the blame on others. Without a doubt, the long term effects of excessive spending by the government will do much greater harm to the public than will the minor cuts caused by sequestration. Rather than just reporting the White House propaganda, couldn’t Food Safety News (and the CLFP) show some balance by reporting the views of others on the subject?

  • We need to ensure that all the products sold in the U.S., including our food are safe. The budget cuts to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could cause 2,100 fewer inspections at domestic and foreign food facilities and the Food Safety Inspection Service could furlough all employees for approximately two weeks. These cuts will result in new incidents of food contamination and life-threatening foodborne illnesses.
    When lack a lack of regulation leads to foodborne illness, the economy and individuals suffer. We need these standards and their enforcement in place to protect our public health.

  • scipio

    Let’s see what happens. It is sad that when “rich” people suffer something gets done; when the “not so rich & powerful” suffer the story seems to be little different. Maybe it’s time for a veto rather than helping only the most privileged among us.\Or maybe this is a plutocracy or what was the term, kleptocracy?

  • scipio

    If religion were a thing that money could buy, the rich (in money & power) would live & the poor would die.

    Seems this applies to sequestration too.