USDA Urged to Uphold Commitment to Food Safety Inspection

US - The National Chicken Council, along with 37 organizations representing various aspects of animal agriculture, livestock and poultry producers, food processing and manufacturing, retail, international trade and transportation, wrote to US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack to express strong concerns with the possibility of furloughing the nation’s federal meat, poultry and egg products inspectors in the event sequestration goes into effect.
calendar icon 13 February 2013
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"We fail to see how employees performing such a critical function as to be exempted from a full government shutdown should be furloughed to make up a budget shortfall."
Coalition to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack

"We understand USDA is considering implementing a sequestration plan that would result in furloughing all the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS’s) meat, poultry and egg products inspectors for 15 days," the groups wrote. "Because of the importance of federal inspection to the production of meat, poultry and egg products, we do not believe furloughing FSIS inspectors to be an appropriate response to sequestration within the framework of the federal meat, poultry and egg products inspection laws. It certainly would not be in the public interest."

Because federal establishments may not produce meat, poultry or egg products without federal inspection, furloughing inspectors would effectively shutter meat, poultry and egg products plants for more than two weeks, imposing significant hardship on thousands of inspected establishments and hundreds of thousands of people directly employed by these industries, not to mention the affected government employees.

The letter detailed not only the negative effects that furloughing meat and poultry inspectors would have economically, but it also pointed out the negative effects on meat and poultry exports and imports, on schools and other public institutions that rely on contracted-for meat and poultry products, on the welfare of livestock and poultry and on American consumers.

The groups also noted that even when the federal government has shut down due to lack of appropriations, Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspectors were among the "essential" federal employees who stayed on the job. FSIS’s plans for a potential shutdown in April 2011, for example, declared FSIS inspectors "necessary to protect life and health" and "essential to the nation’s food safety operations."

"We fail to see how employees performing such a critical function as to be exempted from a full government shutdown should be furloughed to make up a budget shortfall," the letter continued.

Further, furloughing FSIS inspectors would be inconsistent with the mandates of the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act and the Egg Products Inspection Act, which prohibit the production, processing, or interstate distribution of meat, poultry and egg products without federal inspection. Of significance, and as USDA itself has acknowledged in the past, these laws require USDA to provide inspection at government expense.

The letter concluded, "We recognize that sequestration presents significant challenges that require USDA and all other federal government agencies to make difficult decisions to prioritize resources. But cutting an essential, legally mandated program such as food safety inspection is not the way to address the government’s budget deficit. We urge USDA to examine all options available to meet its obligations under sequestration while upholding its commitment to ensuring that American consumers have access to the safe, wholesome and nutritious protein sources they have come to expect from the nation’s meat, poultry and egg products industries."

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