CU opposes the state-inspected meat provisions in the “Farm Bill”

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July 26, 2007
Re: Opposition to State Inspected Meat Provisions in Farm Bill
Dear Representative:
Consumers Union writes to express opposition to the state-inspected meat provisions in the “Farm Bill,” H.R. 2419(1). We are concerned that these provisions could seriously reduce food safety standards and increase the risk of harm to consumers. These provisions 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.
The state inspection provisions would amend the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act to 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.
Finally, this provision was approved by the House Agriculture Committee without the benefit of public hearings to explore the crucial issues or give opponents an opportunity to be heard. Consumer and public health experts, as well as the unions who represent federal inspectors and workers in meatpacking plants, had no opportunity to address the issues.
We respectfully urge that this language be stricken from HR 2419.
Sincerely,
Sally Greenberg
Senior Counsel
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(1) Title XI, Subsection B, Sections 11103–