A proposal by Agriculture's John R. Block has so enraged a coalition of consumer groups that they have given him their first "Consumer Casualty of the Month" award--made to the Reagan administration official who did the best job in February of "attacking the health, safety and pocketbooks of American consumers."
Currently, USDA inspectors must be on hand when meat processing plants operate. The secretary's proposed legislation would allow USDA to choose which plants need full-time inspectors based on the plants' history of compliance, internal monitoring systems, nature and frequency of operations and "any other factors" that the secretary might deem important. USDA claims that if the plan were put in place by 1984, it would cut the number of meat inspectors from 2,215 to 1,077 by 1989, saving $42.5 million.
"Many processing plants have very sophisticated monitoring systems," explained USDA spokesman John McClung. "We will simply be riding piggyback on those systems."
But Nancy Drabble of Congress Watch contended the plan will gut federal meat standards and give "a blank check to individual meat processors to cheat on inspections, since they will only get caught if they are unlucky." USDA discussed a similar plan during the Carter administration, but that plan required plants to meet certain standards and listed stiff fines for violators, Drabble said. "This plan lists no standards, no penalties. It has no teeth. . . . It gives the secretary too much discretion," she said. The Community Nutrition Institute, National Consumers League, Consumer Federation of America and Center for Science in the Public Interest joined Congress Watch in criticizing the proposal. Requiring congressional approval, it has been referred to a House Agriculture subcommittee for study.