Meat inspector furloughs averted; industry praises Congress

Included in the $984 billion package approved by the House is a provision directing $55 million toward the U.S. Agriculture Department’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

The measure effectively replaces cuts required by the $85 billion sequester that would have prompted the agency to furlough thousands of federal meat inspectors around the country for up to 11 days.

Meat processing and packing plants cannot operate without onsite inspectors.

Under an amendment to the spending legislation penned by Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), the funding would be shifted to FSIS from other USDA accounts.

“We are gratified that lawmakers recognized the essential nature of meat and poultry inspection by taking this step to prevent inspector furloughs,” said J. Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had been adamant that meat inspector furloughs would be in order, if Congress did not intervene. The industry, meanwhile, warned of a potential meat shortage and ensuing price increases if inspectors were furloughed.

The Blunt-Pryor amendment was accepted by voice vote before the continuing resolution bill cleared the Senate Wednesday by a 73-26 vote.

The House approved the spending package by a tally of 318-109, sending the bill to the president’s desk.