Lately I’ve been seeing confusion coming across our social media feeds in regards to the government’s plans for sequestration and the meat industry. If you aren’t aware of what’s going on, you should be. After all, it could affect all of us. And to us in the industry, it’s a scary thing.
So what’s all this about…? Well last week, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that, in order to meet the required budget cuts demanded by the sequestration plan, federal meat inspectors would be required to go on a two week furlough. So what does this mean..? Basically, all meat production under federal inspection will cease to exist for two weeks.
The Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) was first passed by Congress in 1906. Under the act, it ensures that meat is being: labeled/branded correctly, to ensure that meat is being humanely slaughtered, as well as that meat is being processed under sanitary conditions and with government approved ingredients. All of this is maintained, oversaw, and regulated by no other individual than the Secretary of Agriculture according to the FMIA. It is his responsibility to act on behalf of the meat industry when it comes to food safety. If you’re interested in more about the Act, you can find the entire text of it here: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Regulations_&_Policies/FMIA/index.asp#SubchapterI
We’ve talked here before about classifications of inspection in the meat industry. Meat that has been slaughtered under federal inspection can be resold in basically any market. Retail, restaurants, schools, wholesale. Basically any meat that doesn’t go to the end consumer directly falls under this classification. This type of classification requires many things. First one being an FSIS (USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service) personnel present at all times while slaughter operations are taking place. Animals being inspected LIVE as well as carcass by carcass inspection, organ biopsy sent off for testing of antibiotics, etc. As well as FSIS inspectors monitoring the further processing of the carcasses and products made out of them, even down to added ingredients and spices. All of this is monitored and closely documented by not only meat plant personnel but also FSIS inspectors. Basically, FSIS ensures that the plant is maintaining the most stringent of food safety standards so that the end consumer of the product receives a safe, quality product.
Now imagine two weeks without these inspectors being allowed to go to work….
Some news agencies are reporting that due to the furloughs, it could force the public to go meat free for two weeks claiming increased health benefits as well as environmental effects. And yes, I am sure many of us out there could afford to go without meat for two weeks. But this is much more of a matter of food safety than it is forgoing that steak for two weeks. And in case you haven’t been following, we’ve shared before the sustainability of modern beef production methods and it’s no secret that many nutritionists and popular new diets/lifestyles recommend lean protein.
But many in the industry and in agriculture are starting to speak out against these furloughs. Saying that these furloughs not only could effect the meat industry but also beef, pork, sheep, and poultry producers as well. Industries including the Food Marketing Institute, Grocery Manufacturers Association, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Chicken Council, National Pork Producers Council, National Restaurant Association, National Turkey Federation, North American Meat Association and U.S. Meat Export Federation have all joined the conversation.
“Secretary Vilsack is using America’s cattlemen and women as pawns in the agency’s political wrangling with Congress. While we are certain the USDA contains other ‘non-essential’ employees, the Secretary has chosen to announce the consequences of sequestration in terms of a furlough of FSIS inspectors, essentially threatening to close down all production, processing and interstate distribution of meat.”
He also brings up the legality of the furloughs as well as the fact that the government has previously deemed the FMIA essential and necessary.
“Under the Federal Meat Inspection Act and other related legislation, Congress has charged the USDA with providing federal inspection of meat, poultry and egg products at government expense. This places a legal duty on the USDA and the administration to carry out this service, a duty which the USDA has recognized as ‘essential’ in the past. And while we understand the hardships placed on the agencies through the possibility of sequestration, we are severely disappointed Secretary Vilsack has chosen to take this path of threatening to halt FSIS inspections.”
NCBA also goes on to estimate approximately 6,290 establishments nationwide would be severely impacted by a furlough, and that action could result in more than $10 billion in production losses. As well as industry workers experiencing a loss of over $400 million in lost wages, consumers experiencing limited meat and poultry supplies as well as potentially higher prices and food safety could be compromised.
The American Meat Institute also jumped into the conversation writing directly to our Secretary of Agriculture. In the letter AMI President writes,
“We agree with the assessment that furloughing inspectors would have a profound, indeed devastating, effect on meat and poultry companies, their employees, and consumers, not to mention the producers who raise the cattle, hogs, lamb, and poultry processed in those facilities. AMI respectfully disagrees with the Department’s assertion that, in the event of sequestration, the furloughs referenced are necessary and legal. The Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act (the Acts) impose many obligations on the inspected industry, which we strive to meet. Those Acts, also however, impose an obligation on the Department – to provide inspection services.”
Our Secretary of Agriculture wrote back in his letter stating,
“Because we understand that furloughing our food safety inspectors would not be good for 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. However, were sequestration to become a reality, it simply would not be possible for FSIS to achieve the requisite level of savings by furloughing non-front line staff alone as your letter suggests.”
He concludes his letter with this statement:
“The impact on USDA’s food safety activities is only one of many reasons why it is critical for you to join me in urging Congress to act promptly to prevent sequestration from going into effect.”
So whether you’re a supporter of agriculture as a whole, advocate of food safety, believer that the government is overstepping its legal bounds, or simply just love meat. We recommend you write to Congress and urge them to prevent sequestration. So that us in the meat industry and here at Chico Locker can continue to provide you with safe, quality, and wholesome products that remain affordable to both our company as well as our customers. As well as keeping our food safety standards intact and not possibly compromised by Congress’ attempts to balance the budget.
With many already criticizing a lack of regulation in the meat industry, what are your thoughts about how the meat inspector furloughs could affect us…?