Farmers Fret as USDA Shuts Hundreds of Offices

Critics worry move will compromise public safety
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 10, 2012 11:16 AM CST
A technician dumps seafood byproducts into a hydrolysis machine at the Fishery Industrial Technology Center in Alaska. The USDA plans to close 259 domestic facilities, Tom Vilsack announced yesterday.   (AP photo/University Of Alaska Fairbanks)

(Newser) – The US Department of Agriculture announced plans to close 259 offices, labs, and other facilities yesterday, in a move that will save the agency $150 million per year. But the announcement has some farmers and food safety experts worried, the AP reports. "They wiped out the entire Midwest," says one stunned deputy district manager, who discovered that his office—which oversees Minnesota, Montana, the Dakotas, and Wyoming—was on the chopping block.

The USDA says it doesn’t expect mass layoffs, and promises that food inspection won't be compromised. But some are worried. "Access to agencies is a big deal, especially in rural areas," says one Iowa corn farmer. Others, like California cotton growers, bemoaned the loss of research facilities. One farm economist said technological advances had made many offices redundant, but worried that the USDA might lose "the capability to collect data and do the behind-the-scenes activities that really help US agriculture stay safe."

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