Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Food Inspection in MN: good at pigs, bad at carrots

Food inspection at the state level is embedded in a complex network of federal, state, and local food safety actors. Because of the nature of the modern food market, with most food traveling across state lines or even national borders, most of the food safety laws and regulations come from the federal level, which then creates mandates in food safety standards that the state and local levels must follow. We have much tougher inspection laws surrounding meat and poultry than other foods, and it certainly shows.

The Dairy and Food Inspection Division (DFID) of MDA implements federal and state food safety laws. The DFID’s funding breakout is roughly 43 percent General Fund appropriations, 46 percent fee-generated revenue, and 11 percent federal funds via contracts with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Almost $24 million was appropriated to the MDA for “protection services” in the FY12-13 biennium, which includes more activities than food inspections, out of a total MDA budget of more than $64 million. Two years ago, facing a backlog of inspections of retail food establishments, the legislature allocated an additional $490,000 to the DFID for fiscal years 2012-13, even though overall funding for the MDA was cut by 5%. While meat and poultry are under strict federal mandates for inspection, food inspection in other areas are at the mercy of state funding.

This is true in other states as well. For instance, Wisconsin’s food safety division is funded through 60 percent fee-generated revenue. Both states experience upward pressure on licensing revenues as tax revenue from both the state and federal level for food safety has declined. Most recently, a federally-funded food inspection program in Minnesota (the Microbiological Data Program) was closed due to a halt in funding.

With more and more cases of salmonella in fresh produce, we need to step up our inspection game and regulate farms more effectively. And we need the federal funds to do it. We’re pretty good at inspecting pigs, but not so good at inspecting carrots.

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