Published April 9, 2021
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has proposed a new requirement for meat and poultry processors that are USDA-inspected. If the processor has an internet connection, they would be required to provide the FSIS access to that internet connection. If the processor doesn’t have internet, nothing would be required at this time.
- USDA FSIS inspectors move large amounts of electronic data, which requires a lot of bandwidth. An internet connection, like a garden hose, can only move so much volume. If the establishment’s internet connection is tied up moving FSIS data for free, it is not moving the business’s data. This is a particular problem for small-scale facilities in rural areas, where broadband is often limited and expensive.
- The language of the proposed rule is clearly laying the groundwork to require that all processors provide free internet for FSIS as a condition of being inspected. In the proposed rulemaking, FSIS claims that internet service is a “necessary utility,” like lighting, heating, and laundry services, that should be provided as a regulatory condition of receiving inspection. If/ when FSIS takes the next step to require all processors to provide FSIS with internet access, small-scale processors in rural areas will lose their inspection status.
There aren’t a lot of alternatives for processors if they lose USDA inspection. In 23 states, there is no state inspection program. And even in the states that provide an inspection option, it means that the meat can’t cross state lines – which can be a major blow to the farmers and ranchers who rely on the processor. So this is a very serious threat.
Internet service – unlike lighting and heat – is NOT necessary for inspections to occur. Internet service is a convenience for the inspectors. Internet access allows them to communicate with their supervisors and managers by email. It also allows them to access the FSIS Public Health Information System (PHIS), a web-based software application, to be notified of scheduled work assignments and record work performance results.
All of these are management functions, not inspection.
USDA inspectors have successfully performed inspection without internet access since 1906. Internet access may be a necessary resource for FSIS supervisors and managers to carry out agency management tasks, but it’s not necessary for the inspection. And the processors should not have to pay for internal government agency administrative services.
FSIS can provide smartphones and/or hot spots for their inspectors. This is just an attempt to shift the cost to the processors. It won’t be a problem for large-scale operations, but small-scale processors are already hard-pressed to survive the regulatory burdens and costs. And if, as we anticipate, FSIS takes the next step and makes internet access a condition of inspection, then some processors will be forced out of business simply because of lack of internet facilities in rural communities.
Tell USDA to pay for its own internet access, not shift the cost to the processors! Your comment can be quite short. If you live in a rural area and have problems getting internet access, or it is expensive with costs based on the bandwidth, be sure to point that out!
Deadline: May 3, 2021