USDA plans sporadic, same-day furloughs for all meat inspectors

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All U.S. meat inspectors will be furloughed on the same days as the federal meat safety agency shaves its budget by $53 million under automatic spending cuts, Agriculture Undersecretary Elizabeth Hagen said on Wednesday.

Hagen told a House Appropriations subcommittee the furloughs, expected to total 11 days in all with none in succession, were likely to begin in mid-July. She said a nationwide furlough on the same day would treat all regions of the country equally.

Her testimony put a sharper focus on the Agriculture Department's plans for carrying out the furloughs. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told lawmakers last week that the furlough days would not be consecutive, to minimize disruption to the meat industry.

The Obama administration says meat packers and processors would lose $10 billion in production if there was a two-week shutdown of inspections. Meat plants are not allowed to operate without USDA inspection. There could be spotty meat shortages from a slowed-down production system in the summer and early fall.

All 9,212 meat safety workers will be furloughed at the same time, including 8,136 "front-line" workers which includes inspectors, lab workers and investigators, Hagen said.

Subcommittee chairman Robert Aderholt, Alabama Republican, said he hoped for a "reasonable and responsible way" to minimize the impact of sequestration. Hagen echoed Vilsack in saying there was no way to avoid furloughs because almost all the safety agency's budget was dedicated to front-line work.

Kansas Republican Kevin Yoder said there was "healthy skepticism" that a 5 percent cut in funds would cause such draconian cutbacks. And Republican Tom Latham, from the hog and cattle state of Iowa, asked, "Have you been told to make it as painful as possible?"

"Absolutely not," replied Hagen.

USDA is looking for additional savings, she said, and if they are found, the number of furlough days could be reduced.

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Nashville  |  March, 13, 2013 at 04:19 PM

Yeah great. Let's make a series of national holidays of it. Drama queens on parade. Well, I for one will eat tons of meat for every meal on those days. We shall discover USDA is not the center of the universe regardless of what they would have us believe. They are like children crying and pouting and refusing to sit up at the dinner table. A spanking and off to bed with no dinner is the time-proven remedy for that sniveling nonsense.

SD  |  March, 18, 2013 at 06:49 PM

Given the ease with which even our President of the USA makes a statement, then days or weeks later, directly contradicts what he said, how can anyone believe what Mr. Hagen said in answer to the question asked by Mr. Latham? The way even presidents have learned to 'parse' words, the answer of "absolutely not" may be a creative and accurate answer to those words posed by Mr. Latham, yet totally not true of how department personell have been given their orders re. causing as much pain as possible with the cuts. The fact that there is NO real cut, only a cut of FUTURE planned spending leave this whole situation rife with avenues for disengenous 'solutions'. ALL this is a very sad commentary on the times, and the willingness of SOME politicians, who are supposed to be LEADERS, to side-step rules and regulations and use them for political gain rather than to help our nation.


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