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.

Scott George President of National Cattlemen’s Beef Association spoke out saying,

“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…?

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This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. Bernadette Barber

    You really believe this? I know more safe, wholesome farm processed meats that can be had at zero taxpayer expense. The meat inspection complex is a racket of big corps and government collusion. Farmers should be allowed to process their own meats on the farms in which the animals were raised; its better for the animal, better for the environment and better for the small town economy. Totally sustainable.

    1. jenniferdewey

      Bernadette- here at Chico Locker we believe the same which is why we have a unique way of processing our animals for our customers. In the header you will see our mobile slaughter truck. We do on farm slaughter and we too believe that it produces a better product because animals are more calm and able to be left in their natural environment. We also do however worry about food safety when it comes to further processing. Say you want to make a sausage, ham, or bacon.. If you don’t take the necessary steps to process those products, and there is even organic ways to do it, you can become very sick. Which is why our shop requires a state meat inspector. He makes sure that we aren’t going to make anyone sick as well as that we are keeping our facility sanitary and that our production methods are safe. It’s no different than county health coming into a restaurant to make sure they are doing the same. We are not a large shop, we employ about 10 people including half of our family. We enjoy the fact that we can provide for those who are unable to grow and raise their own meat. Chico is a town of about 120,000 so not everybody has access to land and supplies to raise their own animals. So instead they come to us. Thanks for your thoughts and your comment.

      1. Liz

        I understand that you find it helpful to have a state inspector ensure that you processing your meat in a healthy way. But I think I know what Bernadette is trying to convey. I am puzzled as to why farmers used to know how to run their own farms, slaughter their own meat, grow their own vegetables, etc.. without having gone through 4 years of undergrad and at least 2 more years of graduate school. People used to rely on their local farms for their meat, cheese and produce. The problem is that we have “agri-business”, huge corporations that are running massive farms. And they get kickbacks from the government to farm in this way. Small farmers are being paid to not farm. This is so the government can commit price
        collusion on everything we buy at the store. Why are we supposed to believe that all of a sudden in this day and age, farmers don’t know how to be farmers? Why do we need a government bureaucrat to tell honest to goodness farmers how to raise animals, process meat and grow and harvest fruits and vegetables? Does a college degree really make them experts? Why do we have massive recalls on meat, spinach, etc, etc., etc…. from federally inspected meat and produce? I am respectfully asking these questions. I know that our local farmers take pride in their work and what they produce. I trust them much more than I trust a government official. People need to start buying locally. I guess during the two week furlough my family will just kill some of our own chickens. Thank you for writing this article and letting us comment.

        1. jenniferdewey

          Liz- I appreciate your comment. I have a presentation to give this afternoon and will be out of the office. BUT I will do my best to respond to your concerns as well as present some questions to you! Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts!

      2. Mike haley

        Hi Liz,
        I don’t disagree with you, I often have issues wi the need for any extra level of governmental oversight. However, there are many reasons why they exist including increasing pressure from the public. Looking at animal slaughter for instance meat inspections were rammed up across the country after the Hallmark instance where one slaughterhouse was caught allowing sick animals to be processed, in this case there was also a degree of collusion that led to increased safeguards that inspectors are subject to.

        What meat inspectors do insure a standardized method is followed when animals are butchered. It insures that what people are buying is what they expect. When this system is not in place here is a larger potential for fraud, as we are seeing right now in Europe.

        Is this process necessary? No, not if individuals wish to do their own work to make sure they know what they are purchasing. This is why custom exempt butchering exists, anyone who wishes to find their own source of meat and a place to butcher it (a butcher shop or even their own basement) can do so with out an inspection. However most people want to take the time to do this but still demand that somebody, the government, takes the needed steps to ensure their meat is to a certain safety standard when they purchase it at a store or restaurant.

      3. Charlotte

        I think what Chico is doing is great, but I also believe we should be able to eat at our own risk if we so choose. I don’t need a man in a lab jacket to okay my neighbors hog and hOmemade sausage…it should be baught and sold it without facing criminal charges.

  2. Karen Kwiatkowski (@karen4the6th)

    The military is doing the same thing to fight the small proposed budget reductions — threatening to cut the things that they think we “need” (in the Pentagon’s case, it’s 800,000 civilian employees). But this government bureaucracy panicked silliness should and will eventually backfire, as we the people come to understand that these government employees — just as for these so-called “food safety inspectors” employed by the USDA/FDA complex — in reality do not help anyone in a measurable way, as they raise the cost and lower the quality of any sector they are involved in. And thanks, Chico Locker for serving your neighbors and customers!

    1. jenniferdewey

      Thanks for your comment. But I must ask you a question. How do you propose food safety should work in our industry…? Without the help of our inspectors, how do you propose the public ensures the food they are receiving is safe …? In the case of our state funded inspector, he has been truly an asset to what we do. He is a wealth of information about a variety of topics we aren’t exactly up to date on. And we are proud of the fact he ensures the products we provide are safe and made from quality ingredients.

  3. brandibuzzard

    I get frustrated when I see my tax dollars going towards programs that don’t benefit myself or my family in any way but I 200% agree with government funded food safety precautions. Our U.S. food supply is the safest in the entire world, in large part due to the stringent guidelines and regulations that the UDSA, FSIS and FDA have placed upon slaughter plants and other food processing facilities. I’ve traveled around the world and eaten foods that haven’t been nearly as well inspected and longed for my safe US food supply while doing so. When you’ve seen what it’s like to eat in establishments and purchase from meat markets that aren’t as regulated or safe, you come to appreciate that which is waiting at home. I don’t question the meat or other food products I purchase for my family in the US because I know that there is no big conspiracy theory at work. Science = safe.

  4. VA Food Freedom (@VAFoodFreedom)

    I think we are missing the point here. CHOICE. I want to buy sausage from my neighbor who raises the hog, and the herbs ans spices. I don’t NEED any meat inspector to bless it. Maybe I disagree with some govt principles of meat inspections protocol. Should I be denied the freedom to choose my own foods? The Government can keep all the inspectors they want ( or can afford) ..but they should never deny any American the freedom to choose what foods and from where he or she want to buy it. If people want to buy at Wal-Mart meat counter… let them have at it, If they want to buy at Chico’s again let them have at it. If they want to buy if direct from the farmer uninspected, they should be able. Its America.

    1. jenniferdewey

      VA- I am a little confused here. We want choice as well. And our current food system allows the people choice. They can choose to buy at our local shop or they can go to Wal Mart and buy as well. We as a small local shop provide a LINK to farmers and ranchers for people who live in the city and do not have the ability to raise their own food.

      How exactly is the government limiting your choice of meat VA? Just like all homes maintain different levels of cleanliness, you put ultimate trust in that farmer? That he made sure to keep the carcasses at the correct temperature and that he didn’t keep one carcass in the hot sun while he was butchering the other one and then re-cool it..? That could cause someone to get sick, but as a consumer you would never know. I am just giving an example here. In our shop, all of our temperatures are documented. We have to ensure that our products stay at a constant temperature and if something does go out of whack (one of our coolers stops) we could compromise our products and in turn make people sick.

  5. An Irish Male In America

    The way I read it was that it’s not about budget cuts (which everyone keeps saying), it’s about not getting further budget increases. (If I pay someone $100 a day for a year, and say “next year I’ll give you $110”, next year roles around and I still give them $100…. am I cutting their pay? No, I’m just not increasing what I’m giving them, same with the military, no cuts, just no increases). Anyway, the dept of ag was the one who threaten… I mean… said “Well we’ll just have to pull our meat inspectors for 2 weeks to make up the money”. It’s not like they could have asked their secretaries to take furlough days, cut back on travel expenses, decide to fly the heads economy class instead of first class on their golf trips.

    I think if people demand that there shouldn’t be meat inspectors, then they should also give up the right to sue any company for getting sick from eating tainted meat. The inspectors are there for safety, to regulate the industry. There are massive failings (just look at the horse/beef scandal happening in Ireland for instance) however, how many times have we heard of a recall happening due to inspectors finding misbranded products, products containing allergens, pieces of metal or plastic in products… all before it’s reached the customer?

    I for one think it’s a good idea to have regulation in our food industry, and it should be up to a separate entity to carry out that review. After all, we can’t have a processor reviewing their own production practices, that would be like letting the banks review their own foreclosures for errors! And that will never happe……………… oh darn….

    http://consumerist.com/2013/02/13/feds-now-letting-big-banks-review-their-own-foreclosures-for-errors/

  6. oregongreen

    Jenny, I am going to have to disagree with you on this.

    I don’t doubt that sequestration will potentially have negative impacts on the meat processing industry. However I am more inclined to believe no one will even notice & business will go on as usual.

    I think these threats, like our meat supply will disappear, that the president & the secretary of ag are making are just scare tactics. This administration has engineered crisis after crisis to push their agenda and continue to add debt to our ever growing negative number. They love to spend money and offer no real solutions, but of course that’s no one’s fault. (Yes that was in a snarky tone)

    If we contact our congress folks to temporarily stop sequestration this does not solve the bigger problem within our society and within our government.

    Let sequestration happen. Let the people get what they voted for. There are consequences to votes and we can’t keep putting a bandaid on our problems.

    Plus, as you said the state has their own meat inspectors, the federal government does not pay for those. Just like the federal government doesn’t pay for fireman, policeman or teachers.

    But, in a state of fear they can control the masses.

    1. zweberfarms

      I agree Marie. I am a believer in natural consequences. If Congress didn’t want this to happen then maybe they should have done their job over a year ago.
      Yes, it will totally derail the meat industry for two weeks (if they all take their furloughs at the same time and all at once, which probably won’t happen), but then maybe Congress would be forced to live with the consequences of their actions.
      We have steers and cows scheduled to be butchered through March. We will be watching what happens.

  7. Natalie

    California has been furloughing state employees for a number of years now and I think the description of all meat inspectors going offline for 2 weeks is a little far fetched. If anyone got sick the legal backlash could be horrendous. How would these furloughs work? Would an inspector be required to take furloughs that added to two weeks over the course of a year? In that case it’s essentially just two weeks of unpaid vacation days. I don’t think that’s such a big deal and an easy way for our government to save money .

  8. brandibuzzard

    I think that some who are unopposed to the furlough and are saying “Just let people get sick from uninspected meat” may be missing a key point here: without inspectors there will be absolutely no meat leaving a plant. Slaughter won’t take place and it’s not like there will be a backlog of 2 weeks worth of meat sitting in containers waiting to be shipped. No inspectors = no slaughter = no meat supply.

    There will be no income for those plant employees, a vastly decreased meat supply – which will in turn cause a hike in prices down the road (not immediately). This is not a small thing that could happen – it’s a very serious issue.

    No offense meant to any commenters.

  9. VA Food Freedom (@VAFoodFreedom)

    McDonalds, Taco Bell, Wal-Mart and the others will just have to wait to sell some burger. Its convenience foods anyway, not real nutrition. Or maybe they will just sell more salads, bean burritos or vegetable soup those weeks. It is no real loss on the small family farm, which is sustainable, the hardship will be within the big corporations of the NCBA which might need to tighten their own budgets anyway. America has tightened hers. They don’t need anymore tax dollars. If you want to see the real ranchers check out R-Calf http://www.r-calfusa.com/ They have solutions.

  10. Charlotte

    The sequestration would only cut anticipated spending from 1.7 trillion to 1.6 trillion…so all this really means is that we have entirely too many non-essential federal employees on the the taxpayer payroll

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