SALEM, Ohio — The federal budget sequester that became effective March 1 still stands, but it looks like the meat industry is safe, according to congressional action taken March 20 by the Senate, and March 21 by the House.
Both chambers voted in favor of a bipartisan amendment to a 2013 appropriations bill, directing $55 million to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service from other USDA accounts to fund meat and poultry inspections. Funds will be appropriated for meat inspection through Sept. 30.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture had previously warned that the cuts would most likely lead to a furlough of federal meat inspectors, which would have caused significant economic losses in the meat industry, including meat processors, who are required by law to have federal inspectors present when processing.
The furlough was expected to last 11 days and would have included all 9,212 federal meat safety workers, including inspectors, according to testimony presented March 13 by Elisabeth Hagen, Under Secretary for Food Safety. The days were to be taken non-consecutively to minimize losses, but estimates still put the losses in the billions.
The decision received praise from the American Meat Institute — a national trade organization that represents the meat industry.
“We appreciate Congress’ leadership and we are particularly grateful for the efforts of Senators (Mark) Pryor and (Roy) Blunt, who offered an amendment to fund USDA’s meat and poultry inspection program,” said AMI President J. Patrick Boyle. “We are gratified that lawmakers recognized the essential nature of meat and poultry inspection by taking this step to prevent inspector furloughs.”
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said a crisis was prevented.
“With this shift of finances, Congress was able to avoid the crisis created by the administration and keep FSIS inspectors in the plants where they belong,” said NCBA president Scott George, a cattleman from Cody, Wyo.
Under the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906 and related legislation, all meat, poultry and egg products produced here in the United States or imported must be inspected by a federal food safety inspector and that service must be paid for by the federal government. Without the inspection, no product can be sold or shipped interstate.
“Had inspection been halted, this would have resulted in a backlog of animals, shortened supply of beef to market, higher prices and harm to the futures markets,” said George. “By the Secretary’s own estimates, this would have equated to $10 billion in production losses and $400 million in lost wages.”