Cutting Meat Inspectors Under Sequestration

As noted in an earlier post, Vilsack, Secretary of the USDA is going to be furloughing meat inspectors. When you have no inspectors, the packing plant is shut down. Prior to his notice of furloughing these inspectors, he announced that foreign meat plants would either NOT be inspected at all, or the inspections would be vastly reduced. Currently, or rather previously, the USDA typically inspected foreign plants once or twice a year. But in the US, if a USDA inspector is not on site, the plant must be shut down. So….one is left only to surmise that the entire meat packing and provisional sector (ie ranching, chicken and turkey producers, hog growers) will find themselves out of business in the not so distant future. Why? Because the Federal government doesn’t want to make cuts to their budgets in logical places.

If you buy your meat at the grocery store, you will likely experience either a shortage and massive price increases, or a plethora of imported meat….Either way, you really need to source your meat from a grower in your area. Get it processed locally, and KNOW with much more certainty what it is that you are eating. The USDA is going to create a food shortage by their actions here.

Here is an article from a group I can barely tolerate. They think raw milk is scary, and push for the FDA and USDA to further hamstring the producers of food and consolidate the market even more:

Vilsack: Under Sequestration, USDA Cannot Avoid Furloughing Meat Inspectors

By Helena Bottemiller | March 4, 2013

Under the sequester, which recently put in place across-the-board budget cuts, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has no choice but to eventually furlough meat inspectors, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack again said on Friday.  The statement comes after some lawmakers and industry groups questioned whether USDA needed to furlough inspectors and argued that the department had a legal obligation to provide meat inspection.

When it comes to meat inspection, “there will be disruption in that process,” said Vilsack, in remarks at the Commodity Classic, a convention of corn, soybean, wheat and sorghum farmers. “Make no mistake about it, there is not enough flexibility in the sequester language for me to move money around to avoid furloughs of food inspectors.”

“It is not something I want to do, its not something I like doing, but it’s the law and it’s something I am going to have to do, unless this thing gets resolved,” he added.

With the mandated cuts, which kicked in on March 1, USDA’s budget in 2013 will be less than it was in 2009, according to Vilsack, who highlighted that the department had recently trimmed more than $700 million by modernizing and reducing waste.

Under the sequester, USDA’s operating budget will be reduced by another billion to a billion and a half dollars and there is no flexibility in how the cuts are structured, he told the audience.

“The way this is structured, every line item of our budget and every account that’s not exempted by Congress has to be cut by a certain percentage,” said Vilsack, adding that he has no flexibility to move money between programs, so funds from nutrition, for example, cannot be moved to cover food safety.

Vilsack noted that it wont just be the roughly 8,000 meat inspectors in more than 6,000 plants that are impacted, but also the 250,000 people who work in the plants.

He also said there was no way for USDA to further reduce administrative or travel costs in order to avoid the cuts because USDA has been reducing spending in anticipation of budget reductions.

“Frankly, I have to apologize to all of you, because this is crazy what is happening,” he said. “This shouldn’t happen. In a functioning democracy, this shouldn’t happen. People should recognize that we have fiscal issues and we should address them – it’s a combination of additional revenue and cuts.”

In a press conference following his speech, Vilsack responded to questions about a recent letter from several U.S. senators that took issue with meat inspector furloughs and asked for the department’s legal justification for the move.

The secretary said USDA is working on developing that legal opinion, but said again he believes there is currently no way to avoid inspector furloughs unless Congress comes up with an alternative to the sequester.

Vilsack explained that even within FSIS’ budget there was no flexibility to avoid inspector furloughs because 87 percent of that budget directly funds or supports inspectors. He said another five percent goes toward operating expenses and the rest funds testing, analysis and other “back room stuff.”

On top of that, the secretary said he is only legally allowed to furlough individual employees for 22 total days. “You could furlough everybody else other than inspectors for 22 days and you would still have to furlough inspectors. And by furloughing those other people the inspectors couldn’t do their jobs.”

According to Vilsack,  furlough notices will be sent out this week to “start the clock” on notice procedures, but he did not specify whether that would include inspectors.

© Food Safety News

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Laurel
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 09:29:34

    “Frankly, I have to apologize to all of you, because this is crazy what is happening,” he said. “This shouldn’t happen. In a functioning democracy, this shouldn’t happen. People should recognize that we have fiscal issues and we should address them – it’s a combination of additional revenue and cuts.”

    Isn’t this a little below the position Vilsack holds? Yes, a CEO is over all, but management is an operation is delegated to those who know the jobs necessary. And, please correct me if I have read/inputted info wrong, but don’t the plants have to pay the inspectors furnished by USDA?–BUY LOCAL–

    Reply

  2. truthfarmer
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 10:41:28

    Yes, what he is doing here is completely clouding the issue. Obama makes the decisions as to the areas to cut or not to cut. The sequester is an absolute non issue, but they are making it an issue by purposefully cutting areas that are actually important to our well being.

    Reply

  3. Texican
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 12:12:23

    The USDA is in charge of the Food Stamp program… wonder how much the free food checks will shrink? Maybe Vilsack, et al. should take the 2% cut out of the SNAP program, instead of the ‘meat inspectors’. Otherwise, what will the SNAP recipients do, when they can’t purchase carts full of premium cuts of steak, because there are no inspectors. I personally know my local butcher’s best days of the month are when the “Lone Star Cards” are ‘recharged’. They do three to four times as much meat in those few days.

    Reply

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