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President’s Budget Leaves Critical Gaps In Consumer Protection
Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter
WASHINGTON - February 2 - "The Obama Administration's proposed 2011 budget falls short of what is needed to protect consumers by underfunding food safety and water infrastructure, while devoting government resources to promoting unsustainable methods of producing food.
"While consumers are left to cope with almost constant recalls of potentially contaminated meat, the Obama budget would shrink critical programs like the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) inspection of imported meat and poultry. Cash-strapped communities around the country are struggling to repair and upgrade aging water systems, but the proposed budget fails to meet the growing need for investment in this critical public infrastructure. And while underfunding these vital programs, the administration proposes to increase funding for intensive open ocean aquaculture, a method for raising fish that damages the environment, harms wild fish populations, and relies on chemical inputs and drugs to compensate for stressful growing conditions.
As it considers the 2011 budget, Congress must ensure that vital food safety and water infrastructure programs are adequately funded, and that taxpayer dollars are not being used to promote controversial and unsustainable fish production systems."
Background: Weakening Food Safety
"The proposed budget for USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service may not cover the additional workload of the department's inspectors. It shows an increase of 1.2 percent, yet projects the number of slaughter facilities to increase by 7.8 percent and processing facilities to increase by 2.2 percent. Because these new facilities will require continuous government inspection, this proposed budget puts an already stretched FSIS workforce under increased pressure.
"What is even more troubling is that the proposed budget would cut funding for FSIS' import inspection program by 15.8 percent. Since FY 2004, the FSIS budget has included between $18 million to $20 million per year to conduct audits of foreign facilities that export meat, poultry and egg products to the United States and to conduct re-inspections of those products at U.S. ports-of-entry. The Obama proposal cuts that program to $16 million, even though it is projecting an increase of 5.6 percent in the volume of imported meat and poultry products. While part of the reduction is due to a delay in the implementation of a new catfish inspection program, any reduction in import inspection is troubling given the recent safety record of imported food.
"It is encouraging that the proposed budget would substantially increase the number of microbiological and antibiotic residue samples collected and analyzed in FY 2011, but we hope that the agency will have enough inspection personnel to collect those samples, as well as scientists to conduct the tests.
"While the re-inspection fee included in the proposed budget is appropriate, the proposal for a facility registration fee is not. We do not see the merits in assessing this fee on plants, which are required by law to be inspected by USDA, unless the goal of the fee is to serve as a device to curtail future appropriations." For more information, contact Tony Corbo (202) 683-2449.
Background: Communities Face Water Funding Shortfall
"The President's budget request of $3.3 billion for funding our water and wastewater infrastructure leaves billions of dollars of unmet need. A recent study by the Environment Council of the States found that 33 states have an immediate need for $56 billion for water and wastewater projects. Across the country, sewer pipes and water mains are crumbling - we need a stronger investment in fixing our infrastructure now.
"In addition to investing in water infrastructure so we can provide safe drinking water and properly manage wastewater, the federal government should also be assessing available water resources. Most people are surprised to discover that, as a nation, we do not know how much water we have, where it is, or who is using it. In order to make sound decision about national water policy we need to strengthen our funding of the United States Geological Survey's (USGS's) groundwater program. The $2.7 million included in the budget request will help, but we need a new commitment to mapping our groundwater. Congress should ensure that USGS is given the funding than the agency needs."
For more information, contact
Mitch Jones, (202) 683-2477.
Background: Promoting Unsustainable Fish Production
The President's budget would increase by $2 million the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA's) budget for promoting and approving open ocean aquaculture, the industrialized fish farm operations that damage the environment, harm wild fish populations, and put consumer health at risk.
"The proposed budget calls for money to be devoted to implementing a controversial Bush Administration plan for open ocean aquaculture in the Gulf of Mexico, a plan that is currently being challenged in federal court. The use of taxpayer dollars to promote this unsustainable industry is unacceptable, especially after vows of belt-tightening from the President. Rather than increasing NOAA's capacity to promote and approve new large-scale open ocean fish farms, Congress should provide funding for research on sustainable fisheries management and small-scale, closed system aquaculture systems.
The FY2011 budget includes $2,352,000 for more staff and research on aquaculture. A major concern is that important dollars will be wasted to simply check off that "research" has been done and then move forward with swift development of ocean fish farming. For years, NOAA has pushed offshore fish farms as critical for domestic seafood production, refusing to even consider other more sustainable options, like land-based recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS). Ocean aquaculture globally has been associated with serious problems like pollution, escape of farmed fish and conflicts with other ocean uses in particular, commercial fishing. RAS can actually meet the goals stated for offshore aquaculture - reducing overfishing, increasing domestic seafood supply, and providing more green jobs without conflicting with fishermen. Taxpayer dollars should be put toward research for RAS, not ocean aquaculture.
"Given our current jobs crisis and our massive national debt, to spend millions on implementing a program that privatizes fishing access privileges, puts people out of work, and does little to help the environment is irresponsible."
For more information, contact Marianne Cufone, (813) 785-8386.