The Reagan administration may be planning to turn federal programs over to state and local governments, but the trend in meat and local governments, but the trend in meat inspection appears to be going the other way. It seems that governors, like presidents, are interested in cutting budgets, particularly where they can get someone else to pick up the tab.
The federal government pays 50 percent of the costs of the state-federal inspection programs, but if the state has no program, Uncle Sam steps in with his own -- and pays for the whole shebang.
The latest state to take advantage of this approach is Arkansas, whose governor, Frank White, is a conservative Republican businessman elected in the 1980 Reagan landslide. In March, White decided that the $1.5 million Arkansas paid for its two-year share of the state's federally mandated meat inspection program could be better used on state heath programs.
The Arkansas executive's action is recorded in the May 1 Federal Register (page 24524). According to a notice by the Department of Agriculture's food safety and quality service, the governor "has advised this department that the state of Arkansas is no longer in a position to continue administering a state meat inspection program after May 31, 1981."
As a result, the notice goes on, USDA "pursuant to law" will assume the responsibility.
When the Federal Meat Inspection Act was amended in 1976, meat-packing plants that did business only within one state were required to adopt federal purity and health standards that since 1907 had been applied to facilitices that sold their meat in interstate commerece. As part of the 1967 legislation, states were encouraged to develop their own meat inspection programs "at least equal" to the federal system. If they did that, the federal government would pay half the cost of the entire state inspection system -- with the federal inspectors covering plants selling across state lines and the state inspectors covering those whose products remained inside the state of origin.
If, however, the state did not have its own inspection program, the federal government would do the job for all the plants in a state.
When the law went into effect in 1970, every state maintained its own inspection system, one Agriculture Department official explained recently, primarily because the relatively small meant packers who kept their products within a state did not want to be subjected to federal inspectors.
Over the last 10 years, however, no fewer than 20 states changed their minds and turned the whole operation over to Washington. Arkansas is not even the last one. Idaho will be the next to take such a step.
Beginning June 1, "approximately 104 heretofore state-inspected plants in Arkansas" will come under the federal inspectors, the notice says. The owner of each faclity, according to the notice, "who desires to continue any such operations" must immediately apply to the Agriculture Department for an "application for inspection and survey" of his plant.
Although Arkansas' transfer of its meat inspection responsibilties will result in increased federal expenditures, the all-federal inspection program is expected to be 25 percent less costly than the state-federal program, a USDA official stated. Maybe there was a bit of administrative padding somewhere.