Make Our Food Safe
05/07/2013

"Budget Cuts Won't Reduce Food Safety Inspections"

USA TODAY | Elizabeth Weise

The Food and Drug Administration will not reduce food inspections because of budget cuts, despite warning earlier that it could be forced to eliminate thousands of inspections by Sept. 30.

"Our goal is to absorb the cuts without a risk to public health. We are working to manage the budget reductions through other mechanisms," FDA spokeswoman Shelly Burgess said.

Commissioner Margaret Hamburg told USA TODAY editors and reporters on April 25 that the agency feared it could be forced to cut as many as 2,100 inspections -- 18% of the annual total -- by Sept. 30 because of the mandated budget reductions called the sequestration. The agency has been working to decrease the needed cuts for months, she said. FDA oversees food safety for almost everything but meat and poultry.

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The FDA will need more money in the future to hire the necessary inspectors and technicians to meet the requirements of the new law, said Erik Olson, director of food programs at the Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington. "But in a sequester year, we feel good about 2013" in terms of funding, he said.

The Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service, which oversees all meat and poultry slaughterhouses and packing plants, dodged the sequester bullet entirely.

The agency was supposed to get hit with $52.8 million in cuts. Elisabeth Hagen, undersecretary for food safety, said on March 13 that the cuts would require shutting down meatpacking and slaughter plants one day a week until the end of September, reducing meat production by 20%.

Faced with that prospect, Congress voted on March 22 to give the USDA $55 million to keep inspectors on the job.

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