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GOP Budget Cuts Could Literally Make You Puke: Republicans Propose Slashing Food Safety

If Republicans have their way, food safety could fall casualty to the congressional budget-cutting fervor.

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Kingston's criticisms echo those of the tea party activists who tried to kill the food-safety bill last year, warning that the government's "food safety Gestapo" would crush small farmers and convert Americans to vegetarianism (see "The Tea Party's Food Fight"). Though the Tea Party lost the battle at the time, they may be vindicated by Republicans who are now prepared to take an axe to existing food-safety efforts—and who are unlikely to back new funding for ramped-up inspections and regulations, even for a law that they voted through. Though Democrats have tried to defend food-safety inspections, there's a $50 billion gulf between the GOP's cuts and what the Dems have proposed, putting the funding at risk as both parties continue to wrangle over the budget.

State budget cuts could further endanger the nation's food supply, advocates say. State officials are responsible for carrying out about half of the country's food-safety inspections, as well as all inspections of restaurants, grocery stores, and other establishments. "State health departments are where we find out where the illness started from," says Plunkett. "We need them on the state level to do those surveys—to figure out where the problem is and what to do about it." Though states like Minnesota and New York have tried to ramp up their efforts in recent years in light of high-profile outbreaks, the fiscal emergencies facing states across the country are already weakening inspections. And some states have already started slashing food safety efforts: Indiana has taken an axe to its meat inspection budget, Iowa and Oklahoma have curbed restaurant inspections, and Pennsylvania has laid off egg inspectors.

In the meantime, reports of tainted food haven't stopped making headlines. Last week, the Department of Agriculture recalled chicken and pork tainted with listeria—a month after recalling E. coli-carrying ground beef.

"I'm worried," says DeLauro. "The cuts are reckless—they both endanger our food supply and they endanger families and public health."

Suzy Khimm is a reporter in the Washington bureau of Mother Jones. E-mail her with tips and ideas at skhimm (at) motherjones (dot) com. For more of her stories, click here. Follow her on Twitter here. Get Suzy Khimm's RSS feed .

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