Ag groups express concern over potential FSIS furlough

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Thirty-eight trade associations expressed concern with the possibility that U.S. meat, poultry and egg products inspectors may be furloughed if sequestration were to go into effect. The groups say a furlough could bring substantial losses to farmers.

Because of the importance of federal inspection to the production of meat, poultry, and egg products, the groups do not believe furloughing Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspectors to be an appropriate response to sequestration within the framework of the federal meat, poultry, and egg products inspection laws.  They believe it certainly would not be in the public interest.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, the groups state, “Because federal establishments may not produce meat, poultry or egg products without federal inspection, furloughing inspectors would effectively shutter meat, poultry and egg products plants for more than two weeks, imposing significant hardship on thousands of inspected establishments and hundreds of thousands of people directly employed by these industries, not to mention the affected government employees.”

The letter continues, “Moreover, furloughing inspectors would have devastating trickle-down effects:  Farmers raising livestock and poultry would have nowhere to send their animals and would have to shoulder substantial losses.  With nowhere for livestock and poultry to go, animal care would become more challenging.  The robust U.S. export trade in meat, poultry, and egg products would all but dry up, and imports would be halted at the border.  Schools and other public institutions relying on contracted-for meat and poultry products may not be able to obtain alternate sources of affordable, wholesome protein.  And, most alarming, American consumers could face their first widespread shortage of meat, poultry, and egg products in generations.” 

Furthermore, the groups say furloughing FSIS inspectors would be inconsistent with the mandates of the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act and the Egg Products Inspection Act, which prohibit the production, processing or interstate distribution of meat, poultry and egg products without federal inspection. The letter states, “Of significance and as USDA itself has acknowledged in the past, these laws require USDA to provide inspection at government expense. We recognize that sequestration presents significant challenges that require USDA and all other federal government agencies to make difficult decisions to prioritize resources. But cutting an essential, legally mandated program such as food safety inspection is not the way to address the government’s budget deficit.”



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