In a February 8 article, Reuters reported on the Obama Administration warning that sequestration cuts currently scheduled for March 1 “may result in furloughing every U.S. meat and poultry inspector for two weeks, causing the meat industry to shut down.” The results of such a shutdown could be very significant, especially in light of the fact that meatpackers and processors cannot ship beef, pork, lamb, and poultry meat products without being containing the USDA inspection seal.
According the to the Reuters article:
“There is not much we can do when Congress says to every line item by a certain percent,” Vilsack said. He said employee pay accounted for the bulk of spending at the meat safety agency.”
In addition, the article highlights a White House statement that “USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service may have to furlough all employees for approximately two weeks”.
American Meat Institute (AMI) President J. Patrick Boyle responded to these statements, asserting that the USDA has a legal obligation to continue meat inspection even in the event of sequestration. In his letter to USDA Secretary Vilsack, Boyle stated:
The American Meat Institute is aware of comments made by you and the United States Department of Agriculture (Department) regarding the impact that sequestration, should it go into effect, could have on the federally inspected meat and poultry industry. We agree with the assessment that furloughing inspectors would have a profound, indeed devastating, effect on meat and poultry companies, their employees, and consumers, not to mention the producers who raise the cattle, hogs, lamb, and poultry processed in those facilities.
AMI respectfully disagrees with the Department’s assertion that, in the event of sequestration, the furloughs referenced are necessary and legal. The Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act (the Acts) impose many obligations on the inspected industry, which we strive to meet. Those Acts, also however, impose an obligation on the Department — to provide inspection services.