Vilsack says inspector layoffs mean meat shortages

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Americans should expect to experience spotty shortages of meat due to furloughs of food inspectors caused by federal budget cuts, but the government will stagger the layoffs to minimize the impact, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said this week.

Automatic budget cuts are scheduled to take effect on Friday unless a deal can be reached in Congress.

During an interview with Reuters TV, Vilsack said furloughs of meat inspectors, and the cascading impact on the meat industry, were unavoidable although shortages were unlikely to occur immediately.

"At some point, you're going to have shortages," said Vilsack. "The reality is there are going to be disruptions."

The White House says USDA's meat safety agency would have to furlough its 8,400 inspectors for the equivalent of 15 days to compile the savings required under the automatic cuts. But those days off could be structured in various ways.

Vilsack says USDA would try to minimize the impact on consumers and the meat industry. It will depend, he said, on "how many days we have to furlough and how we stagger those days."

It was the first time Vilsack mentioned staggering the furloughs, although officials have said the furloughs might occur on non-consecutive days.

A mass layoff of inspectors would shut down nearly 6,300 meat packing and processing plants because companies cannot ship meat that lacks the USDA inspection seal. The White House estimates the industry would lose $10 billion in production with a two-week shutdown.

Meat processors say the government is required by law to provide meat inspection and USDA should find other ways to save money and keep inspectors on the job.

Vilsack did not specify how furloughs at other USDA agencies might be structured. For example, the Agricultural Marketing Service generates prices used as benchmarks for livestock futures at CME Group Inc.

USDA personnel also perform key roles in inspecting exports of U.S. grains and cotton.

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Connecticut  |  February, 28, 2013 at 10:01 AM

No problem. Squeeze 'em now with across-the-board 2.5% spending cuts and stand our ground until these fiscal adolescents decide how to achieve targeted cuts totaling oh, say 10% of the federal budget. Then we would finally be eating away at the deficit. Heck, with these piddling "sequester" cuts we're barely slowing the growth of federal spending. All this whining and silly threats of Armageddon with the loss of less than a nickel on the dollar only exposes Democrats' insistence on forever-larger tax-and-spend government. When it comes around in a few weeks I hope the government gets shut down altogether until we can cut up the Democrats' federal credit cards. Sure, there's always a lot of crying and cursing around the house whenever we have to get serious about frivolous spending above our means but it is long past time to lay down the law on this. Time for the adolescents in Washington DC to mature and learn how to manage money and budgets.

Nebraska  |  February, 28, 2013 at 11:41 AM

Mr. Vilsack is gertting a glimpse that within each Agency, there is broad discretion as to how to resduce expenses. Maybe, they will manage to do as well as Team Clinton did years ago and we won't here anymore direct threats to the public welfare, health or safety because Congress made them do it.

Rochelle, Tex  |  February, 28, 2013 at 04:33 PM

come on folks. scaring people is not in style. and if leadership like this is what we have we had better make a change, with our elected.

Texas  |  February, 28, 2013 at 05:00 PM

All the "gloom & doom" statements are just not true. Even today, the Sec. of Ed was caught in a lie. Most of the cabinet members are just trying to keep more money so that they can spend more money.

Yankee Doodle    
Pennsylvania  |  February, 28, 2013 at 05:54 PM

Be afraid. Be very afraid. No sweat, just politics as usual. A series of big tax hikes will cure everything. The American dream is the consummate frightened patriot. Not exactly how folks thought about it in 1776 but then they didn't enjoy the perks of the nanny state, either. Still gotta pay the piper. Sure wish Vilsack and his merry dysfunctional pipers would learn a new tune now and then, though.

Iowa  |  March, 01, 2013 at 10:05 AM

I assume a meat inspector works 240 days a year. If Vilsack needs to cut 2.5% that would be six days over a year. Not Vilsack's 20. Iowa used to lead the nation in math skills. Either he has lost those skills or common sense or both. Plus his budget is actually growing, just not fast enough for the Dems.

Connecticut  |  March, 01, 2013 at 10:10 AM

God forbid, the cuts affect some individual's entitlement program rather than an essential service. It would be a wasted crisis. It is hard to accept the fact that this President will be our executive for another 46 months. May it pass quickly!

Virginia  |  March, 01, 2013 at 10:51 AM

I am so sorry for the beef-producers and the citizens of this nation. We have vindictive government trying to make us believe that meat inspectors (lack of) can punish farmers and shoppers. Who needs them. Government, get your butts back to work and forget this fraud of "not enough money". The American citizens are fed up with you.

PA  |  March, 01, 2013 at 11:53 AM

Oh, oh. For the first time in over 4 years Vilsack may have to step up and manage his department. Up to now he's stayed safely out of view. Just the occasional half hearted recitation of the Obama talking points. It will be pretty sad if he can't figure out how to distribute a measly 2% budget cut over the course of an entire year without shutting off the lights and sending everyone home in a snit. It all depends on how incompetent he turns out to be as a decision maker and manager. I'm not getting a real warm fuzzy feeling about this, I must say. He's making all these ridiculous gloom and doom threats because he doesn't have a clue what to do. My teenage daughter probably has a more mature understanding of money management than Vilsack and that's not saying very much. I've had to bail her out of a costly financial jam before and I expect we will be bailing Vilsack and Obama out, spoiled princesses that they've turned out to be. What the heck, its only money this time. Hey, it grows on trees, right?

Maryland  |  March, 01, 2013 at 02:44 PM

Y2K all over again. Vilsack is such a ninny.

ca  |  March, 02, 2013 at 12:56 AM

agreed arnie.. well said

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