FSIS exemplifies growing inadequacy of U.S. food inspection regime

increasingly smaller when compared to the scope of the industry it regulates. Even though FSIS’s budget has increased, the growth is dwarfed by the expansion of the meat and poultry industry. Of its appropriated funds, in FY 1981, FSIS spent $13.22 per thousand pounds of meat and poultry inspected and passed. By FY 2007, the figure had fallen to $8.26 per thousand pounds — a drop of almost 40 percent.

Congress has appropriated significantly more money since the early 1980s, but the agency has not spent proportionally for personnel. In the early 1980s, FSIS spent about 69 percent of its appropriated funds to pay its employees. The percentage has steadily dropped, however. By FY 2007 the agency only spent 57 percent on employee compensation. Correlated with this decline is a drop in the number of agency workers. From FY 1981 to FY 2007, the number of full-time employees at FSIS fell from 9,932 to 9,184 — a 7.5 percent drop. Despite robust funding increases in the 2000s, FSIS’s staffing level has dropped nearly three percent during this time. FSIS’s staffing is now at its lowest level since FY 1989. The situation appears even worse when comparing the size of the meat and poultry industry to the size of FSIS’s workforce. In FY 1981 FSIS employed about 190 workers per billion pounds of meat and poultry inspected and passed. By FY 2007, FSIS employed fewer than 88 workers per billion pounds, a 54 percent drop.

For both FSIS and consumers, the consequences are real. The increasing disparity between the size of FSIS and the size of the regulated community means FSIS inspectors face difficulty performing their duties and fulfilling the mission of the agency. Other agencies that focus on product inspection, such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission or the food division of the Food and Drug Administration, conduct risk-based inspections. In risk-based inspection, managers, analysts, and field officers focus on those products or firms that they determine pose the greatest risk to consumers. Under federal law, though, FSIS must inspect all meat, poultry, and egg products intended for commercial use. According to the FSIS Web site, “Slaughter facilities cannot operate if FSIS inspection personnel are not present,” and, “Only Federally inspected establishments can produce products that are destined to enter commerce.” Theoretically, FSIS’s comprehensive inspection regime means that the physical presence of inspectors is essential to both plant operations and