U.S. Senators agreed to shift $55 million in funds within the Department of Agriculture on Wednesday to avoid temporary layoffs of all U.S. meat inspectors due to federal budget cuts. The vote passed the Senate as part of a government-wide funding bill and was sent to the House on a 73-26 roll call, reports Reuters. The House is expected to vote on the bill today.
"If it gets passed, we will apply it," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters on Tuesday. Otherwise, he said, there was no way to avoid furloughs of all 8,400 inspectors for a total of 11 days.
Senator Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), said by shifting the money, "we've been able to protect private sector jobs, keep food prices affordable, and help nearly 40,000 employees in my state alone." Pryor, along with Sen. Roy Blount (R-Mo.) sponsored the amendment that transferred the funds.
The industry was quick to praise the Senate action.
“The Senate’s bipartisan action today was an important step in ensuring the nation’s turkey plants continue to operate on a full schedule for the rest of the year,” said National Turkey Federation President Joel Brandenberger. “The threat of furloughs is not completely gone, but we are hopeful the House will concur in the Senate’s action, and USDA then will take the steps necessary to cancel the planned furloughs.
“Furloughs would have idled plants for one day per week, causing a major disruption in turkey production and economic harm to the family farmers who raise turkeys, the farmers who raise feed for those turkeys, the employees who process and transport the turkeys and, ultimately, to the American consumer who likely would see food prices increase as the food supply tightened.
“We thank Senators Pryor and Blunt for their leadership and the entire Senate for affirming the vital importance of the nation’s meat and poultry inspection system.”
"NCC and our members recognize that sequestration presents significant challenges that require USDA and all other federal government agencies to make difficult decisions to prioritize resources," said National Chicken Council President Mike Brown. "But cutting an essential, legally mandated program such as food safety inspection is not the way to address the government's budget deficit. Senators Pryor, Blunt, Coons, Carper, and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Mikulski and Ranking Member Shelby, are to be commended for their bipartisan leadership and their work to avoid this potential crisis."
"This is a victory that will ensure the federal government can continue to meet its core duties, protect jobs, maintain exports, prevent harm to Rural America and help keep food affordable for all Americans," Brown continued. "I urge the House to promptly pass the bill that came out of the Senate, and I look forward to the president's signature thereafter."
Sources: Bloomberg, NTF, NCC