State Ag Officials Respond to ‘Weak Inspection’ Allegations

Leaders charge advocacy groups’ ads falsely exacerbate food safety concerns.

As the U.S. Senate readies to work on the Farm Bill, the Consumer Federation of America and American Federation of Government Employees have published an advertisement stating that “meat and poultry interests” want to “weaken food safety standards” and “stop federal inspection of meat and poultry.” It comes on the heels of the largest national ground beef recall in recent years.

Today, it drew a quick, sharp response by the executive board of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. The joint response came from Roger Johnson, NASDA president from North Dakota; Ron Sparks, president-elect from Alabama; Michael Scuse, vice president from Delaware; Leonard Blackham, secretary-treasurer from Utah; Rod Nilsestuen, secretary from Wisconsin; John Etchepare, director from Wyoming; and Valoria Loveland, director from Washington State.

The CFA and AFGE statements “are completely false,” contend the state ag executives. “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 were 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,” argues NASDA. “It’s really about fair market access for American small businesses and providing consumers with more choices at the supermarket.”

The truths are . . .

• State-inspected plants are required to operate “equal to” federally inspected plants.

• Pound for pound, a state product has received more “hands on” inspection than a federal product.

• The Topps Meat recall mentioned involves 25 illnesses and 21.7 million pounds of ground beef potentially contaminated with E. coli. It’s a federally inspected plant, with no connection to state inspection. In fact, the NASDA officials note, “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 to test for E. coli, Salmonella, and other microbial pathogens. There’s no provision in the Farm Bill legislation to change this.

• 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 NASDA officials reinterate that the Farm Bill legislation doesn’t change food safety standards. It simply allows state-inspected meat and poultry to be sold across state borders – like many other state-inspected food products.

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