(WASHINGTON, D.C.)—“This possible Senate action could really make you sick,” stated Bobby L. Harnage, National President of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). AFGE strongly opposes possible Senate action to permit interstate shipment of state-inspected meat which may be included in the Farm Bill (Agriculture Conservation and Rural Enhancement Act).
Currently, owners of small plants can choose to be inspected by the state rather than federal inspectors, but the products of these facilities cannot be offered in interstate commerce and can only be sold in the state in which they are produced.
The USDA's Inspector General reported in 1994 that state programs are weak in policing plant sanitation. (January 1994, Office of Inspector General Audit Report, "Food Safety and Inspection Service's Oversight of State-Administered Meat and Poultry Inspection Programs.") In 1996, the Wall Street Journal detailed problems with Florida's state inspection system and quoted the head of the state's meat inspection program admitting that state inspectors were more lenient on inspection standards than federal inspectors would be.
“Adding this amendment to the Farm Bill would be just another act by Congress to capitulate to the business community instead of looking after the citizens that voted them into office,” added Harnage. “Currently, the meatpacking industry and their lobbying organizations have a tremendous amount of influence at the national level. Just think about the control they would have at the state level if this ill-advised piece of legislation becomes law.”
“Allowing state-inspected meat to be sold across state lines will mean our grocery shelves could be filled with food inspected by 28 different standards,” Harnage stressed. “This will inevitably decrease consumer confidence in our inspection system and could also increase the potential for contamination.”
“The food we eat is too important to allow the inspection system to be changed without complete public knowledge of, and input into, the change via Congressional hearings, at a minimum,” Harnage concluded. “A last-minute amendment to the Farm Bill just prior to the holidays is no way to make a change in our meat inspection system.”