If Congress allows the sequester to kick in on March 1, cuts to food safety would be one of the “most damaging” consequences of the automatic budget reductions, according to a memo put out by the White House on Friday.
The analysis by the Obama administration’s Office of Management and Budget said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could conduct 2,100 fewer inspections at domestic and foreign food facilities and the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service could have to furlough all employees for approximately two weeks to meet the across the board budget cuts.
“These reductions could increase the number and severity of safety incidents, and the public could suffer more foodborne illness, such as the recent salmonella in peanut butter outbreak and the E. coli illnesses linked to organic spinach, as well as cost the food and agriculture sector millions of dollars in lost production volume,” read the memo.
The document says the cuts put families “at risk.”
Potential public health impacts aside, the U.S. meat industry would come to a stand still because plants are not allowed to operate without FSIS inspectors on hand.
According to the Hagstom Report (subscription only), last week Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called the sequester “horrible policy” and cited the impact to food safety as one example.
“As soon as you take an inspector off the floor, that plant shuts down,” said Vilsack. According to the report, Vilsack added that removing inspectors even for a short period of time could impact several thousand workers and would severely impact meat prices and supply.
The Obama administration also listed a number of other potential consequences to the automatic cuts, including kicking off 70,000 young children from the Head Start preschool program, eliminating funding for 7,200 special education teachers, aides, and staff, and reducing loan guarantees for small businesses by up to $450 million.
“There is no question that we need to cut the deficit, but the President believes it should be done in a balanced way that protects investments that the middle class relies on,” said the White House in the memo.
According to the OMB’s estimates, the sequestration will require an annual reduction of roughly 5 percent for nondefense programs and roughly 8 percent for defense programs, but because the cuts will be felt over 7 months instead of a full year, the effective percentage is actually 9 percent for nondefense and 13 percent for defense.
Whether leaders in Washington will eventually strike a deal to avoid the sequester remains to be seen.
Photo by Alice Welch, courtesy of USDA.© Food Safety News