Ag Policy Blog
Chris Clayton DTN Ag Policy Editor

Monday 02/11/13

Meatpackers Question USDA Furlough Threat

The American Meat Institute is pushing back on the idea that thousands of USDA meat inspectors must be furloughed because of the impact of sequestration cuts.

In statements released Friday, the White House and USDA cited that food inspections at facilities such as meatpacking plants would be cut due to the impacts of sequestration. USDA cited that packing plants would have to idle during inspector furloughs, costing hundreds of millions of dollars to the meatpacking industry. Inspectors could face as long as 15 days of furloughs at the Food Safety Inspection Service.

Responding in a statement, AMI President J. Patrick Boyle wrote Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack "reminding him of USDA’s legal obligations to provide meat inspection even under sequestration."

As AMI stated, USDA also said that production will shut down for that time period, impacting approximately 6,290 establishments nationwide and costing roughly over $10 billion in production losses. USDA further told reporters that industry workers would experience over $400 million in lost wages and that consumers would experience limited meat and poultry supplies and potentially higher prices.

“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,” Boyle said. “AMI respectfully disagrees with the Department’s assertion is 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.”

Boyle noted that a significant percentage of the FSIS budget goes to personnel salaries, but not all of those funds are used to pay the inspectors necessary to allow establishments to operate.

“Rather than impose across the board furloughs that will lead to plant closures, it is incumbent upon the Department to examine the options available to it, e.g., suspending certain non-essential programs and furloughing non-essential personnel within the 13 different offices (only one of which involves inspectors in plant) that make up FSIS,” he wrote.

“Such an approach would enable FSIS to meet its obligations under a sequestration scenario and satisfy its statutory obligation to provide inspection pursuant to the Acts,” he concluded. “By doing so the Department would avoid inflicting unnecessary hardship on the more than 500,000 people who work in the meat and poultry industry and the more than one million livestock and poultry producers whose livelihoods also depend on those plants operating, and would also disruption of supplies to the 95 percent of Americans who make meat and poultry a nutritious part of their diets."

AMI's letter can be found at http://www.meatami.com/…

I can be found on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

Posted at 12:21PM CST 02/11/13 by Chris Clayton
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