Statement of National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA)
The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) have published an advertisement stating that “meat and poultry interests” want to “weaken food safety standards” and “stop federal inspection of meat and poultry.” Their statements are completely false and their attempts to raise doubts about food safety are a slap in the face to American farmers and ranchers and a disservice to American consumers.
CFA and AFGE are referring to a provision in the Farm Bill that would allow state-inspected meat and poultry to be sold across state lines. There are absolutely no food safety issues at hand with this legislation. It is really about fair market access for American small businesses and providing consumers with more choices at the supermarket.
Ironically, the Consumer Federation testified in support of this same interstate meat legislation at a Senate hearing in April 2000. Why have they reversed their position now–especially when state inspection programs are now being held to higher standards than ever before?
Would this legislation weaken our meat inspection system?
No. State-inspected plants are required to operate “equal to” federally inspected plants and this has been verified by USDA.
Would this keep inspectors out of thousands of plants?
No. A state inspector is present for all of the same activities and at the same times as a federal inspector. In fact, pound for pound, a state product has received more “hands on” inspection than a federal product.
Would this lead to more food-borne illness or more recalls like the one discussed in the advertisement?
No. The recall mentioned involves 25 illnesses and 21.7 million pounds of ground beef potentially contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7. This product was inspected and passed by federal inspectors at a federally inspected plant. It has no connection to the performance of state inspected plants. There has never been a documented food-borne illness from state-inspected meat and poultry products.
All state and federal meat plants have been required for years to test for E. Coli, Salmonella, and other microbial pathogens. There is absolutely no provision in the Farm Bill legislation to change this and no one has even suggested it.
State and local agriculture and health officials conduct 80% of all food safety inspections, including meat and poultry. We take our consumer protection responsibilities very seriously and there has never been a documented food-borne illness from state-inspected meat and poultry products. State-inspected food products, including dairy, milk, fruit, vegetables, fish and seafood, are freely marketed across the country.
Meat and poultry are the only state-inspected food commodities that are prohibited from being sold across state lines. This doesn’t make sense.
The Farm Bill legislation pending in Congress does not change the high standards for food safety. It simply allows state-inspected meat and poultry to be sold across state borders—just like other many food products that are state-inspected.
Here are the real facts:
- Each state inspection program is required to meet or exceed all federal food safety and consumer protection laws and regulations–more than 80 in total. In reality, many states already impose inspection requirements that are more stringent than USDA.
- To ensure compliance, every state inspection program is annually audited and reviewed by USDA. There has never been a documented food-borne illness from state-inspected meat and poultry products.
- Federal meat inspection programs are not changed at all and will continue to fully operate with USDA personnel carrying out their inspection responsibilities.
At a time when many Americans are concerned about increasing amounts of imported food coming into our country, it is very puzzling that the Consumer Federation and AFGE have ignored the real issue: the need for fair markets and giving consumers more choices at the supermarket.
- Meat and poultry products from 38 foreign countries–such as Croatia and Nicaragua–can be freely shipped and sold anywhere in the United States, but our domestic small businesses and processors cannot.
- Importing countries do not have the frequency of inspection or scrutiny that state programs undergo. Yet, imported meat products comprise 20% of the red meat consumed in our country–more than double that of state-inspected meat sold and consumed.
- The U.S. imported more than 4.3 billion pounds of meat products in 2005, yet USDA estimates that less than 10% of all meat and poultry imports were physically examined that year.
Consumers can be confident that meat and poultry products processed in the United States under federal or state inspection are safe, wholesome, unadulterated and properly labeled.
The Consumer Federation and AFGE should be supporting the Farm Bill interstate legislation. Our locally-produced, state-inspected meats are some of the best, high quality specialty products in the world. They are mostly, small, family-owned businesses who make popular and award-winning products such as bratwurst, beef jerky, smoked sausages, and other ethnic specialty products. Increasingly, they are becoming a preferred provider of the highest quality and most environmentally sound and healthful products to the nation’s leading chefs and food experts who now emphasize regionally-sourced meats. How can we continue to tie one hand behind the backs of these entrepreneurs by letting unfounded food safety arguments prevent real participation and competition in our domestic marketplace and give an unfair advantage to foreign suppliers?
American consumers deserve greater access to safe, nutritious products from state-inspected meat and poultry processors. And American livestock producers deserve fair marketing opportunities to sell their high-quality products.