Sequester Siren! Meat in Danger?

Williams Sonoma

Take our naval vessels, our jet-engine programs and our Social Security checks-but do not lay hands on our meat.

If the congressionally mandated budget "sequester" happens, the meat industry says it will take a hit, and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack acknowledged this week that his department will have to furlough food inspectors if the sequester can't be avoided by another deficit-cutting deal.

"Unfortunately, unless Congress acts to prevent sequestration, FSIS [the Food Safety and Inspection Service] will have no choice but to furlough its employees in order stay within the budget Congress has given it," Vilsack wrote in a letter to the American Meat Institute (AMI) on Tuesday. "Because we understand that furloughing our food safety inspectors would not be good for our consumers, the economy, the meat and poultry industry, or our workforce, we view such furloughs as the last option we would implement to achieve the necessary sequestration cut."

The AMI had warned in its own letter to Vilsack that inspector furloughs "would have a profound, indeed devastating, effect on meat and poultry companies, their employees, and consumers, not to mention the producers who raise the cattle, hogs, lamb, and poultry processed in those facilities."

The trade publication Farm Futures has noted that without inspectors to inspect meat and poultry, producers can't keep making it-meaning furloughs could force some producers to close their doors.