Consumer group Food & Water Watch (FWW) has criticized the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) for failing to conduct a sufficient number of food safety inspections due to understaffing.

In a letter sent to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the group's executive director Wenonah Hauter listed examples of cases in which meat and poultry processing plants across the United States were not inspected by because of a shortage of food safety officials. Hauter pointed out that those examples contradicted claims made by the FSIS before Congress earlier this year that there were no gaps in inspections.

FWW sent a similar letter to the FSIS in February, when allegations of understaffing were refuted by a deputy assistant administrator for the FSIS. According to the latest letter, the problem lies in the agency's policy of hiring temporary inspectors, after the number of permanent inspection positions was capped. The program for temporary inspections has proved ineffective and has left plants in parts of the United States in need of safety inspections, it said.

The consumer group wrote that the FSIS was putting consumers at risk as a direct result of the Obama administration's decision to "starve" inspection programs. The FWW said it had lost confidence in the effectiveness of the FSIS to ensure food safety and to protect consumers, and called for a change in leadership of the inspection service.