The Obama Administration may institute a rolling furlough plan, which would keep meat and poultry plants open in spite of the threatened March 1 budget cuts. Previously, it was thought that the USDA would furlough all of its meat inspectors for two weeks, effectively shutting the meat industry and leading to meat shortages and higher prices.
"It appears now it's a rolling furlough," Texas Republican Michael Conaway, chairman of a House Agriculture subcommittee, told reporters. "No one plant would be shut down."
The timing and assignment of furloughs would be spread across the country to minimize the impact on processors, said Conaway, who asked the USDA last week to explain in detail how it would apply the budget cuts. A USDA spokesman was not immediately available for comment, Reuters reports
Although the spending cuts are due to take effect on Friday, it could be weeks or months before the meat industry is directly affected. Meat inspectors are guaranteed at least 30 days' notice of a furlough.
The USDA has not specified a date when furloughs would begin, but has insisted they are unavoidable.
"This is a direct prescription from Congress to reduce every line item," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said last week.