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.