Statement from Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter
Washington, D.C. — “In a letter sent today to Representative Robert Aderholt, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations, Food & Water Watch set the record straight on the shortages of inspection personnel being encountered by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
“After finally making some progress on long-standing problems with inspection staffing for U.S. meat, poultry, and egg products facilities in FY 2012, FSIS embarked on a policy not to hire permanent inspectors to fill vacancies, but instead to hire temporary inspectors to fill the positions. This was based on the agency’s plan to drastically change the way inspection is conducted in poultry slaughter plants. The agency had thought it could proceed with implementation of this new inspection system in FY 2013, but because of food and worker safety and animal welfare concerns that have been raised about the new inspection system, the rule has yet to be finalized by the Obama Administration.
“The agency has encountered difficulty in attracting candidates to take the ‘temporary inspector’ positions because of their limited duration and because the jobs do not come with the same benefits and rights given to permanent federal employees. As a consequence, the vacancy rates have increased across the country. Coverage of this problem by the New York Times in February has triggered controversy, as FSIS tries to claim that there is not a problem with vacancies.
“But the letter sent to Chairman Aderholt demonstrates that the agency cannot pretend that it did not know what was occurring with staffing, laying out evidence from the agency’s own budget documents and correspondence from FSIS officials to the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Local Unions. While testifying before the Chairman Aderholt’s subcommittee last week, FSIS officials tried to compare the search for temporary inspectors to deploying substitute teachers. But the documents we cite in our letter show how inaccurate that comparison is. Hiring 200 ‘substitutes’ is inadequate for over 800 vacant positions and puts the public safety at risk.”