Ag Industry: Govt Furloughs Could Mean Empty Grocery Shelves

Thursday, 14 Feb 2013 11:06 AM

By John Morgan

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Agricultural interests warned that if sequestration leads to furloughing of federal food inspectors, Americans could face their first widespread shortage of meat, poultry and eggs in generations.

A coalition of about 30 trade associations complained in a letter this week to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack that the potential 15-day furlough would have “devastating trickle-down effects” by shutting down key elements of the nation’s food supply chain.

Sequestration — the automatic government spending cuts set to take effect March 1 unless Congress and the White House reach alternative fiscal compromise — would likely have a ripple effect on agricultural production plants. Under federal law, the plants cannot process or distribute their products without U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors to ensure food safety.

Editor's Note:
'It’s Curtains for the US' — Hear Unapologetic Warning from Prophetic Economist.

Todd Mortensen, a livestock producer in Hayes, S.D. and former president of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, said Congress and the White House would be wise not to disrupt the nation’s food supply.

“I don’t think they’re that stupid, but I could be wrong,” he told the Federal Times. “I don’t think people would be very happy if they go to the grocery store and there are no proteins available.”

According to the trade associations, if the USDA inspectors are furloughed, livestock and poultry farmers would have “nowhere to send their animals and would have to shoulder substantial losses.”

Further, U.S. exports of meat, poultry and eggs would dry up, and imports would be stopped at the border, the letter said.

Trade groups ranging from the Georgia Poultry Association and United Egg Association to the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association said the potential furloughs would end up imposing hardships on hundreds of thousands of people directly employed in the U.S. food industry.

“It is just a political ploy? If it is, well, that’s creating a lot of heartburn in the countryside, for sure,” Cody McKinley, public policy director for the Iowa Pork Producers Association, told the Times.

“A sow gestates for three months, three weeks, three days and we can’t guess what days (the inspectors are) going to take their furloughs.”

The White House also weighed in on the matter, claiming government spending cuts in agriculture could increase the number and severity of safety incidents, and the public could suffer more foodborne illnesses such as salmonella and E.coli.

The USDA estimates $10 billion in production would be lost during a two-week furlough, according to Reuters. The agency spends about $1 billion on meat safety annually and has 8,400 inspectors at 6,290 slaughter and processing plants.

Farm Futures magazine noted that in 2011 potential government shutdown preparations, food inspectors were declared exempt from furloughs because they were deemed “necessary to protect life and health” and “essential to the nation’s food safety operations.”

In the current budget battle, Congress and the White House have not agreed whether to specifically exempt food inspectors from furloughs.

Editor's Note: 'It’s Curtains for the US' — Hear Unapologetic Warning from Prophetic Economist.

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