For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 
Contact: 

Seth Gladstone – sgladstone@fwwatch.org, 917.363.6615

USDA Won’t Disclose Latest Meat Inspector Vacancy Rates as Shortages Threaten Food Safety

“This is part of the Trump Administration’s ongoing campaign to hide its incompetence from the public.”

WASHINGTON - Since 2005, the advocacy group, Food & Water Watch has been filing annual Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) for the monthly vacancy rates for meat and poultry inspection personnel broken down by FSIS districts.  Until this year, FSIS has disclosed that information.

This year, Food & Water Watch was only supplied the staffing numbers by FSIS district with no reference to the vacancy rates. According to the FSIS FOIA Office, the FSIS Office of Field Operations decided that the staffing numbers were enough to answer that part of the FOIA request, despite the specific request under FOIA for the vacancy numbers and rates by month.

“The Bush and Obama administrations disclosed information about inspection vacancy rates, but now the Trump Administration wants to hide that information. This is part of the Trump Administration’s ongoing campaign to hide its incompetence from the public,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter.

Hauter continued, “The information we seek would show where USDA is either intentionally understaffing or where there are recruitment and retention issues. Inspector vacancies put the public at risk, plain and simple. What is the administration trying to hide by not releasing the inspection vacancy rates for the latest fiscal year?”

While the Trump Administration has imposed hiring freezes on many federal government agencies, the FSIS inspection program was supposed to be exempted.  However, Food & Water Watch has received reports of severe inspection shortages across the country, even to the extent that the agency could not provide continuous inspection as required by law.  One part of our recent FOIA request that FSIS did fully answer was the number of times inspectors recorded that they could not complete their inspection assignments.  A preliminary analysis of that data reveals that FSIS is experiencing staffing issues for establishments operated by the biggest meatpacker in the world, JBS -- some of which have major recalls going on right now.

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Food & Water Watch is a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food. We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources by empowering people to take action and by transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink.

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