The American Meat Institute (AMI) today urged the Obama administration to classify meat and poultry inspectors as essential personnel who are not subject to work stoppage if the government shuts down due to the ongoing budget impasses. The message was delivered in a letter to President Obama and copied to key Congressional leaders.
Under federal law, meat and poultry plants may not operate without oversight from federal inspectors. Nearly 8,000 inspectors oversee 6,200 plants nationwide and ensure compliance with federal rules requiring that products are safe, wholesome and properly labeled and that livestock are treated humanely. Only the nuclear power industry has as much federal oversight and on-site presence as U.S. meat and poultry plants.
Unless the administration determines that inspectors are essential, plants will need to cease operations in the event of a government closure. Based upon the precedent from previous government closures, it would seem logical that this administration would declare inspectors essential, but administration officials have declined to provide that assurance to date.
“As the possibility of a government shutdown becomes more real so does the threat to the industry’s ability to provide a critical component of the food supply,” AMI President J. Patrick Boyle wrote.
“During past government shutdowns, USDA inspectors were classified as ‘essential’ personnel and not subject to work stoppage and the Office of Management and Budget has for many years deemed essential those employees whose ‘activities [are] essential to ensure continued public health and safety, including safe use of food, drugs, and hazardous materials,’” he said. “In that regard, the mission statement on the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s website states: ‘The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is the public health agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture responsible for ensuring that the nation's commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged.’”
Expert economist John Dunham of John Dunham and Associates has calculated that a shutdown could affect 3.7 million people and their ability to work, and cause a loss of roughly $3 billion in economic activity per day if meat and poultry plants are not able to operate during the stoppage.