The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), an agency within the Department of Agriculture (USDA), provides mandatory and continuous inspection services involving meat, poultry, and processed egg products. The scope of those services is explicitly defined by the statutes that give FSIS its inspection authority. Meat inspection is restricted to species defined as amenable species, such as cattle, sheep, and swine; catfish were added to that list in the 2008 farm bill (Public Law 110-246). Poultry and processed egg products subject to inspection are also explicitly specified. In addition, FSIS runs a voluntary inspection service for animals not listed in the statutes for producers who wish to sell their products in interstate commerce. Those services are provided on a fee-forservice basis and are paid by the producers.
FSIS employs about 8,000 full-time in-plant inspectors and other front-line inspectors who are responsible for the mandatory inspection of the nation's commercial supply of meat, poultry, and processed egg products. Meat and poultry are inspected before they enter or exit the slaughterhouse and before they are transferred to a processing facility. Egg processing plants are subject to continuous inspection whenever the plant is in operation. Inspectors are also responsible for monitoring adherence to regulations that govern areas such as sanitary conditions, recordkeeping, packaging, and ingredient lists. The majority of those services are funded through annual appropriations, with the exception of the voluntary inspection services noted above and inspections performed during holidays or overtime shifts, which are funded by user fees. In 2010, FSIS appropriations totaled approximately $1 billion.
This option would finance all mandatory federal inspections of meat, poultry, and processed egg products with fees paid by the processing facilities. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this option would increase collections by about $5 billion over 5 years and by $12 billion over 10 years.
An argument in favor of this option is that users of government services should pay for them. Federal inspections benefit producers and consumers of meat, poultry, and egg products because they prevent diseased animals and adulterated egg products from being sold for human consumption. 1 The meat and poultry industries also benefit in other ways. For example, they can advertise that their products have passed USDA inspection, which some consumers consider to be an important affirmation of the safety of the products they purchase.
An argument against this option is that the federal government should protect the public at large through inspections that ensure the safety of the nation's food supply; it should therefore be the responsibility of the taxpayers to pay for those inspections. Another argument against this option is that the fees imposed on food producers would probably be passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices for meat, poultry, and egg products.