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    The Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA) welcomed the proposed U.S. Department of Agriculture budget increases for child nutrition programs such as the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and school lunch programs. However, according to GMA, proposed new user fees to be levied against meat and poultry plants are unnecessary costs that penalize companies.

    The USDA budget for fiscal year 2004, released yesterday, includes a record $42.9 billion budget for domestic food assistance programs. This budget request would provide additional support to nutritionally at-risk WIC participants and an estimated 29 million school children in the daily school lunch program. The USDA has also increased funding for WIC obesity prevention programs by $5 million. Additionally, the USDA has requested an increased budget for the Food Safety Inspection Services that includes $122 million in new user fees levied against meat and poultry plants for USDA inspections in addition to the $102 million generated by existing user fees.

    "GMA supports USDA efforts to fully fund programs that benefit a vast majority of Americans," said GMA Director of Federal Affairs David Stafford. "Increased funding for nutrition and obesity prevention programs for children and families will help improve the overall health and well-being of our nation."

    "However, controversial user fees for mandatory USDA meat and poultry plant inspections penalize the very businesses that provide products to all Americans," added Stafford. "USDA plant inspections help prevent the spread of bacteria that can cause potentially fatal reactions such as E. coli and listeria. As a national health service, these inspections should be funded by general appropriations rather than user fees."
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