Fee or tax?

Like the budgets of other administrations before it, the Bush 2004 budget contains “user fees” on food processing facilities regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Some $122 million would be raised by fees imposed by meat, poultry, and egg processors who want government inspectors to work extra shifts.

In the past, these user fees were included for FDA-regulated foods. User fees are really “new and regressive federal food taxes,” said the National Food Processors Assn. Once again, the food industry argues that the regulation of food safety is a fundamental government function, which should be paid for out of general funds.

Both the food industry and some consumer groups believe that changing to an industry-funded regulatory system would undermine public confidence in the safety of the food supply. Congress has always agreed and dropped user fees in the final budget. But with deficits running high, it remains to be seen if legislators will maintain this position.

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