Food Infections Rose In 2012, But Government Is Still Gutting Food Safety Programs

Food-related infections rose in 2012, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control, as budget cuts targeted food inspection programs inside the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other government agencies. Despite the first major update to food safety laws in more than 30 years, budget cuts favored by both Republicans and the Obama administration hampered implementation and inspection efforts, and the number of illnesses rose 3 percent over the 2011 level, the CDC reported this week.

Foodborne illnesses cost the United States roughly $152 billion a year, making the budget cuts aimed at those programs look miniscule in comparison. And though both Obama and Republicans aimed cuts at food safety programs, House Republicans took it a step further, finding extra money to cut from the Food and Drug Administration’s budget during the appropriations process last year.

Those budget cuts got even worse when sequestration took effect in March. The automatic budget cuts will force the USDA to furlough workers, causing some food processors to shutdown. Studies have estimated that there would be up to 600 fewer food inspectors at America’s meat and poultry plants.

Food safety inspections already fall woefully short in the U.S., so perhaps it’s no surprise that foodborne illnesses sicken 48 million and kill 3,000 Americans each year. Now, thanks to a series of budget cuts, those numbers will likely continue to rise.