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Congress Passes Bill to Avert Meat Inspector Furloughs

The House on Thursday passed a continuing resolution that will head off furloughs for U.S. meat inspectors that would have taken place this summer as a result of the sequester.

The measure, introduced by Sens. Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), passed the House by a vote of 318 to 109 today after breezing through the Senate Wednesday by a vote of 73 to 26, and will now go to President Obama’s desk for signature.

The legislation will allow for the reallocation of $55 million in funds from other parts of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the agency’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. This means that federal meat and poultry inspectors will not face furloughs and, consequently, meat plants will keep running without pause through the summer (meat and poultry plants can only operate when a federal inspector is present).

Meat industry representatives praised Congress for approving the funding, which was included in a larger $984 billion spending bill.

“This is very good news for pork producers and other livestock and poultry producers,” said National Pork Producers Council President Randy Spronk in a statement Thursday. “Federal meat inspection is a function that should be maintained to protect the public health by ensuring the safety of the U.S. meat supply. We’re pleased meat inspections will continue, and we are very grateful to Sens. Blunt and Pryor for their efforts to protect food-animal producers and meat packers from costly losses and consumers from higher prices.”

The furloughs would have affected an estimated 500,000 workers at 60,000 plants, costing them nearly $400 million in wages.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who has voiced his support for the amendment, called its passing “an acknowledgment that sequestration left USDA with no other option but to furlough meat inspectors,” a statement that addressed skepticism over whether the meat inspector furloughs were really necessary under the sequester.

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