Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has shaken up the meat and poultry with his comments about how sequestration might impact agriculture during a speech to the National Ethanol Conference last week.
Answering a question about funding for a farm bill, Vilsack talked more broadly about what might happen after March 1 if Congress fails to act and sequester creates automatic budget cuts. “It is likely if sequester is triggered that in our food safety area we will have to furlough workers for a period of a couple of weeks,” Vilsack said, adding that would cause plants to shut down, supplies to decline and prices to go up for consumers.
Those comments generated reaction from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the American Meat Institute. “(W)e are severely disappointed Secretary Vilsack has chosen to take this path of threatening to halt FSIS inspections.” said NCBA president Scott George. AMI President J. Patrick Boyle wrote to both Secretary Vilsack and President Obama stressing USDA’s legal obligations to provide meat inspection even under sequestration.
Secretary Vilsack responded that taking inspectors off the job would be a last resort, but is a very real possibility. “Unfortunately, unless Congress acts to prevent sequestration, FSIS will have no choice but to furlough its employees in order stay within the budget Congress has given it,” Vilsack wrote. “Because we understand that furloughing our food safety inspectors would not be good for our consumers, the economy, the meat and poultry industry, or our workforce, we view such furloughs as the last option we would implement to achieve the necessary sequestration cut.”
Listen to Vilsack at ethanol conference comment about sequester impacts on ag: Vilsack on sequester at NEC