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CU opposes “Farm Bill”, H.R. 2419

September 25, 2007
Re: Opposition to State Inspected Meat Provisions in Farm Bill
Dear Senator:
Consumers Union, the non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports, is writing to express opposition to the state-inspected meat provisions in section 11103 of the “Farm Bill,” H.R. 2419. We are concerned that these provisions, and other similar provisions pending in the Senate, could seriously reduce food safety standards and increase the risk of harm to consumers.
The state-inspected meat provisions currently pending could encourage meat and poultry processors to avoid the safety enforcement of federal inspectors and solely allow for state meat inspection, potentially resulting in a weakening of meat and poultry safety standards. CU believes we should be strengthening oversight of the foods we eat, not creating more loopholes in the oversight of meat and poultry.
By amending the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act, these provisions would permit meat and poultry products inspected by states to be sold in interstate commerce. This could allow meat processors to avoid the federal inspection program if they believe that a state inspection plan could require less rigorous inspection.
CU does not believe that the regulated should “pick” their “regulators.” Yet if this language is adopted, 80% of all federally inspected meat and poultry processing plants—4,532 of 5,603 plants—could elect to drop out of the federal inspection program in favor of state inspection programs.
Though the federal meat inspection system is not without its flaws, the USDA has in place a well trained federal meat inspection system with inspectors who are sworn to protect the public’s health and who have done so for over 40 years. They have been an important part of the nation’s public health protection structure.
While we believe the states play an essential role in protecting consumers from contaminated and adulterated foods, and that they can and should supplement the role of the national strategy for meat inspection, we don’t want to create a system that allows producers to “game the system” by pressuring certain states to implement less rigorous inspection and enforcement programs. That result would undermine the national safety net established by the Federal Meat Inspection Act.
Moreover, this legislation puts American consumers at risk in the event state inspected meat is found adulterated and needs to be recalled. No state has the authority to institute and manage the recall of adulterated meat or poultry that has gone to another state. Neither USDA nor state governments has mandatory recall authority. Recalls must be negotiated between the regulatory agency and the company. Under these provisions, USDA’s recall powers would be eroded further.
Clearly, now is the time when we need to do everything we can to ensure public confidence in the safety of the nation’s food supply. Yet none of the issues discussed above has been the subject of hearings in either the House or Senate. Moreover, the USDA has not been asked to explain how it would address some major food safety issues, including recalls involving state inspected meat and poultry.
CU respectfully urges you to consider these issues, and maintain the requirement that meat and poultry shipped in interstate commerce be “USDA Inspected and Approved.”
Jean Halloran
Director, Food Policy Initiatives