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Sequestration Could Sideline USDA Food Safety Inspectors

WASHINGTON — The looming sequestration budget cuts include the possibility that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will furlough its food safety inspectors for two weeks, an action industry groups say would “effectively shutter meat, poultry and egg products plants.”

Unless Congress can agree on less severe across-the-board spending cuts by March 1, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said the agency would be forced to furlough Food Safety and Inspection Service inspectors for 15 days to meet its budget requirements.

Read more: Produce Biggest Culprit in Foodborne Illnesses

Industry groups, including the National Chicken Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and American Meat Institute, have urged the USDA to reconsider the drastic action, noting the disastrous and far-reaching impact it would have on the meat and poultry industries. By law, federal establishments cannot sell meat, poultry or egg products without inspection.

“Closing businesses as contemplated by the Secretary would, according to USDA, cause production losses of $10 billion, cost company employees more than $400 million in lost wages, and impose untold losses on the more than one million livestock and poultry producers in this country,” AMI president and chief executive officer J. Patrick Boyle wrote in a letter to President Obama.

The National Chicken Council also said in a letter to Vilsack that “American consumers could face their first widespread shortage of meat, poultry and egg products in generations.”

In a letter to AMI in response to the concerns, Vilsack said the furloughs would be “the last option” but noted the USDA would have “no choice” if the mandatory cuts take place.

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