Furloughs of meat inspectors will take “several months” to roll out, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told lawmakers on Tuesday. The department will send out notices to union representatives this week letting them know furloughs are possible, Vilsack told members of Congress at a House Agriculture Committee hearing, according to multiple media reports. “We will do everything we can to minimize the disruption,” said Vilsack. “We are looking at a several-month period before furloughs can be implemented.” The secretary also said furlough days might be closer to 11 or 12. The Obama administration had originally estimated it might take as many as 15 days of inspector furloughs to meet the budget cuts. Pulling USDA meat inspectors off the front lines is a damaging prospect to the industry because meat plants can’t operate without them if they want to ship their meat across state lines. Such distribution without inspection would be against the law. Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) said the administration’s warnings about furloughing meat inspectors were having a negative impact on the economy. “Members of this committee have heard from constituents that these statements about the interruption of production have affected prices, caused concern among financial markets, and alarmed buyers and sellers in the retail and food-service community,” said Lucas, according to Bloomberg. USDA has said that a two-week furlough could cost the meat industry more than $10 billion and cost workers another $400 million in wages. Pictured: Secretary Vilsack testifying before the House Agriculture Committee on Tuesday. Photo by Lance Cheung courtesy of USDA.