September 30, 2014

Obama’s 2015 Budget Cuts Poultry Inspection


Food & Water Watch has released a statement critical of President Obama's 2015 budget, which cuts the USDA's budget for the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) by $9.3 million as part of the "Modernization of Poultry Inspection Rule". Food safety experts call this "The Filthy Chicken Rule". Last year, the government's own Government Accountability Office (GAO) report called the results of the pilot program for this rule into question. That report evaluated 20 young chicken and five young turkey plants and found "gaping methodological flaws" in the pilot project. The GAO also questioned how FSIS could use that flawed evaluation as a basis to expand privatized inspections across the entire poultry industry. Wenonah Hauter, executive director for Food & Water Watch, said, … [Read more...]

Government Shutdown Cripples USDA


This morning, a message on the U.S. Department of Agriculture web site reads: "Due to the lapse in federal government funding, this website is not available. We sincerely regret this inconvenience. After funding has been restored, please allow some time for this website to become available again." The USDA web site has been shuttered because of the government shutdown, so if there are any recalls for Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, etc. on meats, poultry, seafood, and eggs, an announcement will be made, but consumers will not be able to search for recalls. The USDA Hotline has been closed, food safety education has stopped, and label reviews will be halted. As part of essential services, inspection of meat, poultry, and egg products will continue, but 1,200 Food Safety and Inspection … [Read more...]

Cyclospora Outbreak Investigation Hindered by Sequester

Cyclospora sickens 300 in more than a dozen states

In Healthcare News released by the Laboratory Science, Policy, and Practice Program arm of the CDC, officials say that the sequester has hindered the investigation of the cyclospora outbreak that has sickened more than 600 Americans in 22 states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has had to slash $285 million from its budget, when experts say the agency needs more funding as foodborne illness outbreaks become more complex and widespread. Many people think the sequester has not affected them because they don't see immediate and visible results. But programs from Meals on Wheels to Headstart to medical research, first responders, and food poisoning outbreak investigations have been affected. The facilities of Taylor Farms, the largest supplier of leafy greens in the … [Read more...]

Sequester Will Lead to Meat Inspector Furloughs


The Agriculture's Undersecretary for Food Safety, Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, said that there will be 11 days of unpaid leave required of food inspectors to meet the budget cuts that were imposed as part of the sequester on March 1, 2013. She spoke at the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee on March 13, 2013. The furloughs will start in July and will continue through September 30, 2013. On those days, meatpacking plants will have to shut down. The cut that the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will have to absorb is 5% of its $1 billion budget. But the effect is larger because all of the cuts have to be taken out of the last half or even the last quarter of the fiscal year, which ends September 30. And 87% of the FSIS budget is personnel costs. Some have proposed … [Read more...]

When Good Food Goes Bad: The Problems


The Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has released a report titled "When Good Food Goes Bad: Strengthening the U.S. Response to Foodborne Disease Outbreaks." It is designed to improve the country's ability to respond to large foodborne illness outbreaks. The authors identify emerging trends in outbreak response and recommend ways to accelerate and strengthen public health reaction to these outbreaks. For part two of this story, see When Good Food Goes Bad: The Recommendations. There are ten major findings in the report. The first is that medical expenses and lost productivity cost this country more than $77 billion every year. And that the level of resources devoted to "preventing and responding to such outbreaks" is very small in comparison. They … [Read more...]

Secretary Vilsack Responds to Cattlemen About Sequester Effects


Last week Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stated in a press conference that sequestration could lead to temporary layoffs of federal meat inspectors. That action would stop meat and poultry processing in this country for that time period. The meat industry responded to this statement by arguing that the USDA is "legally obligated" to provide inspectors at meat plants. National Cattlemen's Beef Association president Scott George said in a statement, "while we are certain the USDA contains other 'non-essential' employees, the Secretary has chosen to announce the consequences of sequestration in terms of a furlough of FSIS inspectors, essentially threatening to close down all production, processing and interstate distribution of meat. This action has already cost cattle producers … [Read more...]

Vilsack and OMB Say Sequestration Threatens Food Safety


On February 8, 2013, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said that sequestration will affect the nation's food safety. If Congress fails to act, on March 1, 2013 budget cuts go into effect across the board in the United States. "Across-the-board cuts for virtually every agency, every line item of every agency," will occur, he stated. "The effects will be extraordinary." He continued, "it is likely, if sequester is triggered, that in our food safety area we will have to furlough workers for a period of a couple of weeks. Now you say, well, you know, everybody gets a couple weeks' vacation. The problem is, as soon as you take an inspector off the floor, that plant shuts down, so it's not just the inspectors, it's the hundreds of thousands of people who are in the processing business. … [Read more...]

Former CDC Directors Concerned About Budget Cuts


Six former directors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrote a letter published in Politico, asking Congress to avoid budget cuts to that agency in the name of public health and safety. William H. Foege, Julie Gerberdine, Jeffrey P. Koplan, James O. Mason, William L. Roper, and David Satcher all signed the letter. They state that the work of the CDC is "a matter of life and death." That government agency supports emergency responses to hurricanes, investigates foodborne illness outbreaks, problems with medical products, and fights chronic illness in this country. They point to the current meningitis outbreak linked to steroids made at the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts as a prime example of necessary government surveillance. So far, 510 people have been … [Read more...]

U.S. PIRG: American Lives at Risk from Unsafe Foods


The U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which is the federation of state PIRGs, has released a new report stating that food recalls are on the rise and our food safety systems are broken. Contaminated food makes 48,000,000 Americans sick every year, hospitalizes 128,000 and kills 3,000. Those illnesses rack up more than $77,000,000,000 in economic costs. We are deliberately using numbers rather than writing "million" and "billion" to accentuate the seriousness of this situation. Nasima Hossain, Public Health Advocate for U.S. PIRG said, "every year we see hundreds of food products recalled, because they have caused sickness and in some cases death. 2012 has already seen nearly twice as many illnesses due to recalls as 2011, with high-profile recalls of cantaloupes and hundreds of … [Read more...]

OMB Releases Report on Effects of Sequestration


On Friday September 14, 2012, the White House Office of Budget and Management (OMB) released a report on the possible effects of sequestration on food safety, Medicare, FBI, FAA, and education. Sequestration is the across-the-board cuts that will kick in if Congress does not pass a deficit reduction bill by early January 2013. The cuts are part of the Budget Control Act of 2011 that was signed into law after the debt ceiling crisis in August 2011. The White House states that "the sequestration itself was never intended to be implemented." It was supposed to be a way to prod Congress into action. While there is still time for Congress to put a plan in place, House Republicans announced last week that the House will be in recess until November 13, 2012. The report states that, "no … [Read more...]

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