On page 3 of Tuesday’s Roanoke Times, at the bottom of the wire reports, there was a small agriculture brief titled “Budget cutting leads to facility closings.” This brief was about the fact that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is going to close 259 offices, laboratories and other facilities in the country in order to save $150 million per year.
The brief says, “While the closings and other cost-cutting steps will affect the department headquarters in Washington and operations in 46 states, the savings will be relatively small in the context of the agency’s $145 billion budget.”
It is my opinion that anybody interested in food safety ought to read the entire article by The Associated Press. Click the link to access that report as it ran in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution yesterday.
Here are some highlights:
- “Some of the closures had been previously announced. The USDA said last year it would shut down 10 agricultural research stations, including the only one in Alaska, where scientists were seeking ways to use the vast waste generated by the largest wild fishery in the nation to make everything from gel caps for pills to fish meal for livestock feed.”
- “There will be no reduction in inspection presence at slaughter and processing facilities and no risk for consumers,” [Undersecretary for Food Safety Elizabeth] Hagen said. “Not only do we have a statutory obligation to be in every facility, we have an unwavering commitment to food safety,” she added. “We will still be on the job, in every facility, every day.”
- “The USDA manages a wide array of programs, from emergency aid for farmers to grants for rural development and food assistance programs for the poor. Along with the Agricultural Research and Food Safety and Inspection services, six other departments will be affected by closures, including the Farm Service Agency and Rural Development … The USDA plans to shut 131 FSA offices in 32 states, with [the] largest number of closures in Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas.”
- Bruce Babcock, a farm economist at Iowa State University and director of the school’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Development: “The capability to collect data and do the behind the scenes activities that really help U.S. agriculture stay safe, that should be concerning.”
Despite assurances that these cuts will not affect the safety of our food system, folks are concerned. Anybody who works for an organization that has slashed staffing knows there is no such thing as doing more with less, and probably no such thing as doing the same with less.
Hopefully the USDA’s efforts to streamline its procedures will help, as Babcock suggests in the article. Hopefully.
What are your thoughts on this development?