FSIS understaffed?
Food Safety and Inspection Service, which regulates meat, poultry and egg products, faces resource limitations that make it more difficult for the agency to ensure the safety of the food supply, according to a report by OMB Watch, a non-profit advocacy group that monitors the federal Office of Management and Budget. Although FSI’s budget has risen since it was created, OMB Watch notes that staffing levels have dropped steadily, leaving the inspection force too thin. “Meanwhile, the number of meat, poultry and egg product recalls has risen, and a recent recall of 143 million pounds of beef is the largest in the nation’s history,” the report says.

Foreign supplier scrutiny
Showing growing impatience with Congress and the Bush Administration, the food industry itself is once again calling for increased inspection of the food supply. Following Congressional hearings on food safety in late February, the Grocery Manufacturers Association proposed a comprehensive plan for improving the safety of both imported and domestic food. The plan includes a requirement that every food company have in place a mandatory foreign supplier quality assurance program to ensure foods and food ingredients arriving on American shores from overseas meet company and federal government standards. It also commits food companies to voluntarily sharing confidential test results and laboratory data and sourcing information with FDA so the government can focus its limited resources on high-risk products and countries, such as China.

Farm Bill not so sweet
CEOs at 17 major food companies have signed letters to key members of the House and Senate expressing strong opposition to proposed sugar provisions in the Farm Bill. The executives took special aim at a provision that guarantees US sugar growers 85% of the domestic market. The CEOs argue that not only is this bad business, it probably violates international trade agreements. “These provisions will increase taxpayer costs, threaten the adequacy of sugar supplies in the marketplace and risk harm to the interests of US farmers, ranchers and food and beverage firms,” the letter states. The letter also asks Congressional leaders to reject provisions that would increase sugar price supports, further restrict USDA’s ability to administer sugar import quotas and mandate government purchases of surplus sugar for ethanol production.