In Response To Schumer Ratcheting-Up Pressure On The Usda To Assign Beech Nut's Canajoharie Plant A 2nd Inspector, Agency's Under-Secretary To Visit Plant On Monday For Firsthand Look

A Recent Decision to Reduce Inspectors at Beech Nut's Canajoharie Plant is Slowing Down Production and Could Hamper Plans for Future ExpansionUSDA Visit Spurred by Schumer's Efforts to Pressure USDA to Assign a Second Full-Time Inspection Shift So Beech Nut can Operate at Peak PerformanceSenator: After a Firsthand Look, I Expect the USDA to Swiftly Assign a 2nd Inspector so Beech Nut

Following months of pressuring the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to assign an additional food inspector to Beech Nut's Canajoharie plant so local operations won't be jeopardized, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced today that the Under Secretary of the USDA will be visiting the plant this Monday for a firsthand look. Schumer earlier this summer lambasted the agency for putting at risk the financial welfare of the Canajoharie plant by slashing the number of inspectors at the plant just as it was expanding its operations.  


In May, Schumer sent a letter pressuring USDA to assign a second fulltime inspection shift to the Canajoharie plant. In response, today Schumer announced that the Under Secretary for Food Safety, Dr. Richard Raymond, will be visiting the plant to personally assess the situation.


"I'm thrilled the USDA's topbrass heard our voice and will be visiting the Canajoharie plant to inspect its operations firsthand. I expect the Under Secretary to understand why it's imperative that the plant be immediately assigned a second inspector," said Senator Schumer. "For decades, Beech Nut has helped anchor the Mohawk Region's economy, and with the recent announcement that it will construct a new headquarters in Montgomery County, it's essential we keep this momentum surging."


The process by which Beech Nut produces its meatbased baby food must be monitored by USDA inspectors. However, USDA recently decided to eliminate all "minimal" and "limited" inspection services - a practice in place since the 1970s - leaving Beech Nut with only one full time inspector and no additional coverage, which could curtail the plant's current operations and plans for future growth.   


Beech Nut's rigorous baby food production schedule, including preparing, cooking, cooling and packaging it in a sanitary fashion, requires two full time inspectorshifts or other equivalent staffing arrangements. Before the recent reduction of inspection services, the Canajoharie plant received inspection over the course of their 20hour production schedule. The USDA did this by combining a single fulltime inspector shift with a combination of overtime and "limited coverage."  The current arrangement has left them with a single inspector, creating inefficiencies and forcing Beech Nut to drastically alter how their products are made.


"Beech Nut has displayed remarkable resilience in surviving damaging floods and cutthroat competition. Now is not the time to trip up its tremendous growth by playing semantics with the number of food inspectors they're assigned. It's counterintuitive to reduce inspection shifts at exactly the moment when Beech Nut is set for takeoff," added Schumer.


In a letter sent earlier this summer to the USDA, Schumer wrote, "denying Beech Nut's request on this basis reflects an unfortunate failure to understand the unique needs of their facility. With over 100 different products in production, several of which do not require USDA inspections, Beech Nut would have to change their entire business operation just to enter a production schedule that needed inspectors 5 days a week. The company estimates that they will suffer a loss of at least $3 million if they do not have coverage equivalent to its previous level."


This April, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a notice suspending its longtime practice of providing roving inspectors outside of the standard business day. While the decision was designed to require more intensive inspection services, Beech Nut is unable to qualify for additional full time shift coverage because it only produces meatbased foods three days a week. And USDA has indicated that it would only add a second shift if Beech Nut's Canajoharie plant was active for a full, fiveday work week.


Beech Nut has been an economic lynchpin for Montgomery County and the entire Mohawk Valley Region since 1891.  Two months ago, Beech Nut announced it will build a 650,000 squarefoot processing and packaging plant in Florida, Montgomery County, N.Y., and relocate its corporate headquarters from St. Louis to the new building. It also announced its intention to add an additional 135 jobs to the 356 who are currently employed at their facility. Over the last several years its production has increased by nearly 50%, and in the next several years it is hoping to increase its production by an additional 25%, which could create additional jobs and millions of new investment in the region.


Schumer has long been instrumental in BeechNut's success in upstate New York. In the summer of 2006, Schumer worked with Empire State Development Corporation and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to construct an incentives package to save BeechNut's Canajoharie plant after it suffered severe flood damage. In February 2000, H.J. Heinz, Inc. and BeechNut's then parent company, Minot Holding Corporation, announced a planned merger which threatened operations at both the Canajoharie and Fort Plain production plants. Schumer intervened with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and asked it to delay approving the merger until Heinz completed its review of the local plants. One week later, the FTC began its ultimately successful effort to block the merger. In the winter of 2002, Schumer also helped launch a new product line, called First Advantage, at the Canajoharie Plant. 

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