Recently, the New York Times published an article claiming that job vacancies in the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) are leading to more food recalls. That’s not true. The fact is, vacancies within the agency do not mean there are less inspectors on the job in our nation’s meat plants.
FSIS is legally required to have a sufficient number of inspectors present in every single meat and poultry plant in the country. No plant in America is allowed to operate if it does not have the required number of safety inspectors in the plant at all times, and every plant currently operating in America has the necessary food inspection staff.
The New York Times article was based on misleading and inaccurate information, and to the paper’s credit it ultimately ran at least a partial correction. The article was supposedly based on data from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by an outside group called Food & Water Watch, but Food & Water Watch had not yet received that FOIA report.
Yet, they told the Times they had received it, and the Times unfortunately reported faulty information without verification.
The FOIA referenced in the article is actually just being released today. The report will show that, at the end of Fiscal Year 2013, there was a vacancy rate of 7.08% among FSIS’ inspectors.
Food & Water Watch claimed, and the New York Times reported, inspectors in the Raleigh District faced an 11% vacancy rate. In fact, the vacancy rate there is currently 8.27%.
Like all organizations, FSIS has a vacancy rate that fluctuates as inspectors leave work or retire. FSIS is working to fill open positions. FSIS always prioritizes food safety inspection and dedicates significant resources toward ensuring that all plants have the required number of inspectors.
Again, if a plant does not have enough inspectors, it is illegal for that plant to operate.
It is irresponsible to attempt to confuse FSIS vacancy rates with plant inspector shortages and then imply that meat and poultry products are less safe as a result. There is no connection between recent recalls and FSIS vacancy rates, and any claims that these issues are linked are false.
Aaron Lavallee is the deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Public Affairs and Consumer Education at FSIS.
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