GOP warns USDA against furloughing meat inspectors to deal with sequester

"This decision, if implemented, could disrupt the flow of commerce and the lives of millions of Americans, starting with meat and poultry industry and ending at America's dinner table," Conaway wrote. "According to the American Meat Institute, furloughing FSIS inspectors is estimated to cost $10 billion in production losses to the industry. This industry and American consumers depend on the services provided by FSIS inspectors to ensure a safe and healthy food supply."

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Earlier in the month, Vilsack said if the $85 billion in spending cuts were to take place under the sequester, the Food Safety and Inspection Service would furlough 6,000 food inspectors for a few weeks. Conaway said USDA has acknowledged that these cuts could force some inspection plants to close, lead to $400 million in lost wages in the meat industry, and lead to rising prices for consumers.

Conaway did not offer an alternative to USDA's furlough proposal, but did demand that Vilsack explain USDA's plan in more detail.

"In order to more fully understand your rationale, I am requesting a detailed explanation of how the USDA plans to roll out its sequester cuts and a thorough analysis of how the USDA will continue fulfill its legal obligations under FMIA [the Federal Meat Inspection Act] and PPIA [the Poultry Production Inspection Act] should these cuts be implemented."

Conaway, who chairs the House Agriculture subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management, asked Vilsack to reply by Monday.