"The bottom line is — we are not compromising safety
here," Vilsack said on a conference call with reporters following
the release of the White House's budget proposals.
The proposed budget of USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS),
whose primary role is to ensure the safety of meat, poultry and egg
products produced in the United States, was trimmed by some $9.3
million for fiscal 2015 from the enacted level of 2014, to just over
Vilsack said the cut was made possible by a proposal to implement
new methods of poultry inspection, "which have not really changed
much in the past 60 years."
The budget document also noted a proposal for a new user fee to be
charged to plants that have sample failures or require additional
inspections due to noncompliance with regulations.
Recent data suggests an 11 percent decrease in the amount of
food-borne illnesses attributable to products that FSIS is
responsible for, Vilsack said, without specifying the period over
which that declined had occurred.
"I'm confident that what we are proposing will actually reduce
illness," he said.
Vilsack said a separate budget proposal to trim the assistance given
to farmers to pay for crop insurance premiums, and limit
reimbursements to the private companies that administer the
programs, was a matter of fairness.
The crop insurance program, which costs the government an average of
$9 billion a year to run, needs to be "as fair to taxpayers as it is
to producers and insurers," Vilsack said.
The White House estimates its proposal would yield $14 billion in
savings over a decade by setting payments at "more reasonable
[to top of second column]
Other elements of the USDA budget included increased grants for
broadband Internet access for rural communities, and a $50 million
research program to strengthen habitats of bees, whose population
has been in decline.
"Agricultural productivity is directly dependent on pollinators,
especially bees, for producing more than one-third of food
products," the budget proposal said.
The USDA's proposed discretionary spending in fiscal 2015 would be
$23.7 billion, down $938 million from the enacted 2014 level.
Trimmed or eliminated for 2015 were an international forestry
program, public broadcasting grants, certain rural housing grants
and water/wastewater grants and loans.
"When you have to fit things into a finite amount of funding, you
have to make choices," Vilsack said. "These are tight budget times."
(Reporting by Ros Krasny; editing by
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.