Last week Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stated in a press conference that sequestration could lead to temporary layoffs of federal meat inspectors. That action would stop meat and poultry processing in this country for that time period. The meat industry responded to this statement by arguing that the USDA is “legally obligated” to provide inspectors at meat plants.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association president Scott George said in a statement, “while we are certain the USDA contains other ‘non-essential’ employees, the Secretary has chosen to announce the consequences of sequestration in terms of a furlough of FSIS inspectors, essentially threatening to close down all production, processing and interstate distribution of meat. This action has already cost cattle producers significant amounts of money with the downward slide in the futures markets caused by rampant speculation, with untold effect on producers through further regulatory uncertainty.”
Vilsack responded to the NCBA statement by saying that furloughs would be impossible to avoid under sequestration. In the letter, he said that “unfortunately, unless Congress acts to prevent sequestration, FSIS will have no choice but to furlough its employees in order to stay within the budget Congress has given it. The Department as a whole has planned extensively on how to address sequestration and has taken all feasible actions to mitigate its impact. As part of this proactive approach, FSIS has undertaken numerous efforts to reduce its operating costs, including streamlining projects, strategic sourcing of procurement contracts, and other innovations.”
He continued, “most components of the FSIS team, whether at the district offices or in the field, are integrated and dependent on each other for the proper inspection of meat and poultry products. Suggesting that one portion of the Agency can be separate and distinct from the other does not take this integration into consideration. 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.”