February 19, 2020

Food & Water Watch Exposes USDA Inspection Staff Shortages

Food & Water Watch has uncovered USDA inspection staffing shortages and has sent a letter to Secretary Tom Vilsack, asking him to investigate this issue. The new policy at the government agency is to hire temporary meat and poultry inspectors instead of full-time permanent inspection personnel.

usdaartWenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch said in a statement, “we believe that the USDA has put food safety in jeopardy by this reckless policy. This policy was hatched so the agency could implement its ‘Filthy Chicken Rule‘, which deregulates poultry inspections – a move so fraught with controversy that it has yet to be finalized. What the USDA has done is put the entire meat and poultry inspection system on the brink of collapse.”

The policy began in May 2012, right after the comment period on HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) closed. HIMP will privatize poultry inspection, using employees instead of trained government inspectors. Eight hundred USDA inspector positions will be eliminated, allowing corporations to use their own employees to inspect poultry carcasses. Food & Water Watch claims that the USDA is operating under the assumption that the  (HIMP) will be expanded to all slaughter facilities.

Temporary employees do not have the same rights and benefits as permanent federal workers. While no inspectors are being laid off as a result of HIMP implementation, positions are not filled when employees leave through attrition.

There has not been much of a response to the ads for temporary positions, so there are quite a few  inspector vacancies, and remaining staff has to fill in. In one North Carolina district, there is an 11% vacancy rate in inspector positions, so the workload of other USDA inspectors has markedly increased. Food & Water Watch wonders if this vacancy problem has anything to do with the recent recall of more than 8 million pounds of Rancho Feeding Corporation beef products that were uninspected and made from diseased animals.

Food & Water Watch has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with FSIS last December for staffing statistics of in-plant inspection personnel during 2013. No response has been forthcoming, even though in previous years, responses have been received within one month.

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