USDA will close 7 offices in Minnesotaby Mark Steil, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The U.S. Agriculture Department plans to close seven offices in Minnesota, including a food safety office in Minneapolis, which serves five states.
The decision is part of a nationwide plan to shutdown 259 USDA offices. The Minnesota closings affect 23 employees, according to a USDA official in Washington who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the number publicly.
The offices handle everything from farm subsidy programs to food stamps.
The biggest office in Minnesota is a Food Safety and Inspections Service office in Minneapolis. The district office oversees operations in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. It's one of five being consolidated.
About a dozen Minneapolis employees are affected.
The USDA's decision to close the office and others across the country is being criticized by consumer advocates like Jaydee Hanson, a policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety.
"When you've only got 15 food safety district offices throughout the country and you close a third of them, that's not a good choice in my opinion," Hanson said.
USDA's food safety efforts have produced mixed results over the last 15 years. Cases of toxic E. coli have fallen more than 40 percent, but salmonella incidents, the most common food-borne illness, have not declined.
Hanson says that shows that the USDA needs to do more.
In 2011, Cargill recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey, the largest amount meat ever included in a recall. But U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Detroit Lakes, said there's no reason to think that the USDA shutdowns will affect food safety. He said only management and support positions are affected.
"There's going to be just as many inspectors doing their job," Peterson said. "These are administrative jobs, supervisory jobs, they're going to just reorganize the way they're doing that."
In addition to the closing of the food safety office, a USDA Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services office in St. Paul will be shutdown. Also five Farm Service Agency offices will close in Chisago, Nicollet, Pine, Scott and Waseca counties. Peterson said the USDA is closing the offices because of budget cutbacks. He said the agency is working to get a new nationwide computer system up and running.
Once that system is in place, many USDA programs will be available online. Peterson said that could mean more office closings.
- All Things Considered, 01/10/2012, 5:54 p.m.