The chairman of the House Agriculture subcommittee overseeing crops and risk management criticized USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s plan to layoff all U.S. meat and poultry inspectors for two weeks. The USDA has warned in the past that layoffs, which would effectively shut down the U.S. meat and poultry industry for two weeks, would become necessary if the March 1 budget cuts go into affect.
"I am concerned that your plan to furlough (meat) inspectors is impractical and misguided, as it could prevent FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service) from meeting its responsibilities to packers, processors and consumers," wrote Texas Republican Michael Conaway. Conaway asked for a detailed explanation of how the USDA would carry out overall budget cuts of about $2 billion and how it would keep the meat supply moving, Reuters reports.
Meat and poultry industry trade groups have previously argued that food inspectors should be counted as “essential” personnel who need to stay on the job in the event of a government shutdown, which was their status in the past.
Vilsack said in a February 12 letter that, although furloughs are "the least desirable option," there was no other way to satisfy the impending cuts.
"Unlike other budget scenarios, such as a short-term government shutdown, the exemption provisions of the sequestration statutes do not include exceptions that would be applicable to FSIS inspection activities," wrote Vilsack.
Vilsack is expected to testify in front of a House Agriculture Committee hearing on rural economic conditions next week, before the budget cuts would go into effect.