This week the National Pork Producers Council expressed strong support – and relief – for funding approved by Congress to prevent furloughs of federal meat inspectors, a move that would have had negative effects on pork producers, meat packers and consumers.
The House of Representatives today passed a continuing resolution, which funds all federal programs through Sept. 30, that includes $55 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS). The Senate approved the funding bill yesterday, with an amendment sponsored by Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., that added the money for FSIS inspectors, who are required in packing plants that process meat, poultry and eggs.
“This is very good news for pork producers and other livestock and poultry producers,” said NPPC President Randy Spronk, a hog farmer from Edgerton, Minn. “Federal meat inspection is a function that should be maintained to protect the public health by ensuring the safety of the U.S. meat supply. We’re pleased meat inspections will continue, and we are very grateful to Sens. Blunt and Pryor for their efforts to protect food-animal producers and meat packers from costly losses and consumers from higher prices.”
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last month said federal budget sequestration – automatic across-the-board cuts – could force furloughs of up to 15 days for FSIS inspectors. More recently, USDA was considering furloughs of one day a week for 11 weeks between July and Sept. 30 – the end of the 2013 fiscal year.
Without inspectors, packing plants cannot process meat. USDA estimated the furloughs would have resulted in lost production of more than 2 billion pounds of meat, 2.8 billion to 3.3 billion pounds of poultry and more than 200 million pounds of egg products at a cost of as much as $11 billion.
NPPC had asked the secretary to recognize meat inspectors as “essential” workers – as they had been in similar situations, such as a government shutdown – and forego furloughing them.
The money for FSIS is offset by not increasing funds for USDA’s building and facilities account and its School Breakfast Grant Program as much as was requested in the original continuing resolution. (Both, however, receive more funding in fiscal 2013 than they did in fiscal 2012.)