The provision, authored by Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), would require fewer federal inspections for meat that is processed by small companies and shipped to another state.
Currently, meat lacking a federal inspection stamp can only be sold in the state where it is produced. Only state inspections are required for those products.
The Chicago Tribune reports the change is intended to help small meat packing plants in the Midwest. The newspaper quotes congressional staff as saying these small companies could greatly expand their business if allowed to ship nationwide.
But in the wake of last week’s massive Topps Beef hamburger recall, many consumer advocates don’t see it that way.
They, along with the federal meat inspectors union, are opposing this particular aspect of the Farm Bill, currently making its way through the Senate. These critics argue that state inspection standards are hardly consistent, and that uniform, federal standards are the only way to protect the public.
In the Topps case, the recalled hamburger patties were suspected of E. coli contamination. So far this year, the Department of Agriculture has recalled nearly 28 million pounds of ground beef.
Stan Painter, a USDA inspector and an official with the American Federation of Government Employees union, which represents federal meat inspectors, told the Tribune that small plants may apply to have a federal inspector on site, but that wouldn’t necessarily help them.
“I'm not sure the smaller plants are capable of meeting federal standard,” Painter said.
Peterson’s proposal appears to be at odds with other Democrats in Congress, who have called for greater federal inspections of the food supply.
In September, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, introduced the Fresh Produce Safety Act of 2007.
It would require the FDA to develop and enforce mandatory “good agricultural practices” for growers and manufacturers in the US. Currently, there are only voluntary guidelines.