The Maneater

Blunt proposes amendment to save USDA meat inspector jobs

Local meat businesses are state-inspected and unlikely to be affected.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., has introduced an amendment that would shift agriculture funding to save meat inspectors' jobs. Local meat producers are unlikely to be affected by the furloughs because they are inspected by the Missouri Meat and Poultry Inspection Program, not the Food Safety and Inspection Service. Maneater File Photo

To combat a meat inspector furlough that could lead to sporadic meat shortages, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., has introduced an amendment that would shift agriculture funding to save inspectors' jobs.

The amendment, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., would shift $55 million in agriculture funding to the Food Safety and Inspection Service to prevent furloughs for food inspectors. Blunt's office projects food inspector furloughs would lead to the temporary closure of nearly 6,300 food production facilities. These facilities cannot operate without an inspector on site, so an inspector furlough would also lead to more than 500,000 industry workers losing nearly $400 million in wages.

"Without this funding, every meat, poultry and egg processing facility in the country would be forced to shut down for up to two weeks," Blunt said in a news release. "That means high food prices and less work for the hardworking Americans who work in these facilities nationwide."

Testifying before a congressional subcommittee, Elisabeth Hagen, undersecretary for food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, called the furloughs an unavoidable result of sequestration cuts. The FSIS will have to cut an estimated $52.8 million in the next six months.

Hagen said the across-the-board cuts will furlough all FSIS employees, not just inspectors. The employees will be furloughed for a total of 11 non-consecutive days beginning in the summer.

"I would like to emphasize that furloughs will affect all FSIS employees, not just frontline inspectors," Hagen said. "Restricting furloughs to non-frontline personnel would not generate a large enough cut to meet the sequestration target."

Local meat producers are unlikely to be affected by the furloughs because they are inspected by the Missouri Meat and Poultry Inspection Program, not the FSIS.

"I don't think it will affect us," said Bill Crane, the owner of Crane's Meat Processing, a MMPIP official plant in Ashland. "We're under state inspection."

Crane said federal inspectors normally work with larger plants that have locations in multiple states or transport meat across state lines. The state inspection program is run in cooperation with the FSIS, so Crane said cuts could happen in the future.

"Nobody knows yet," Crane said. "I've been talking to my inspectors, and they think there will be a cut, they just don't know where yet."

The Columbia-based Show Me Farms beef business is also under state inspection, according to Missouri Department of Agriculture records.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said the sequestration bill does not allow funding shifts like Blunt's amendment proposal, which would move funding for school equipment grants and maintenance on USDA buildings to the FSIS.

Vilsack said cuts would be unavoidable.

"It's not something I want to do, but it is the law and it's something I have to do, unless this thing gets resolved," Vilsack said.

Vilsack criticized Congress for failing to stop the sequestration cuts, saying they will harm farmers.

"Like all American families, it’s important that USDA and other federal agencies get our job done within a sensible budget," Vilsack said. "However, the across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration are now severely limiting our ability to deliver critical programs for the American people, and I share the president’s hope that Congress will stop these harmful cuts."

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