A plan by the Bush administration to introduce a levy on meat inspections in order to increase funding for food safety programmes in fiscal 2004 has met with heavy opposition from consumer groups and meatpackers.

The administration proposed that meat plants should pay for all inspection work beyond an eight-hour shift each day. It is estimated that the fees would raise around US$122m for food safety programmes.

The food industry proposes such fees because of the additional costs. Consumer groups, meanwhile, are concerned the fees would lead to a loss of vigilance by inspectors, who would effectively be paid by the plants they inspect.

“This is a return to the shell game previous administrations have tried to play,” Carol Foreman, director of food policy at the Consumer Federation of America, was quoted as saying by Reuters.

“We do not want inspectors to fear the owner of a filthy meat plant is the source of their income,” she added.