The nation’s meat inspectors will be forced to take the same days off, possibility shutting down the U.S. meat industry on those dates, the House Agriculture Subcommittee learned Wednesday. In an exchange with USDA Under Secretary For Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen, the committee heard details of the administration’s plan for 11 furlough days that might end up being meatless for everybody since the beef, pork and poultry businesses can only operate when federal meat inspectors are there on the job. Hagen’s comments to the committee are the most detailed to date on how the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) plans to handle the so-called budget sequestration and how much it will cost. As detailed by The Hagstrom Report, Hagen also told the committee that:
- 11 furlough days, scheduled from July to Sept. 20, will be for no more than one day a week and no more than two days per pay period.
- FSIS has decided the fairest plan for the nation’s meat industry is a uniform national schedule.
- FSIS will likely take a total cut of $52.8 million or 5 percent of its budget.
- Furloughs will be required of all 9,212 employees of the FSIS, including 8,136 meat inspectors and others on the front line such as lab technicians
Hagen said USDA’s lawyers found no alternative for the furlough plan once they examined both the statutes for meat inspection and the sequester. In response to a question from Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA), Hagen denied reports that USDA had been instructed to make the cuts “as painful as possible.” Meat inspectors have remained on the job during past government shutdowns. Hagen said the sequester is different because Congress has no plans to come up with the money represented by the furlough days.