Over the weekend, the city of Kissimmee in Florida hosted Commodity Classic, a farmer-focused trade show for the National Corn Growers Association, the American Soybean Association, the National Association of Wheat Growers, and National Sorghum Producers. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack made an appearance at Commodity Classic, and while there he had some somber words regarding the economic sequester that recently went into effect. According to Vilsack, the USDA may soon have no choice but to furlough meat inspectors – a decision that could have dire effects within the United States meat industry.
According to Vilsack, the USDA – who already faced severe budget cuts over the past year – could see up to another $1.5 billion in rigid budget cuts across the board thanks to the sequester. These cuts will certainly affect the job security of the eight thousand meat inspectors tasked with approving the United States’ meat quality:
When it comes to meat inspection, “there will be disruption in that process,” said Vilsack, in remarks at the Commodity Classic, a convention of corn, soybean, wheat and sorghum farmers. “Make no mistake about it, there is not enough flexibility in the sequester language for me to move money around to avoid furloughs of food inspectors.”
“It is not something I want to do, its [sic] not something I like doing, but it’s the law and it’s something I am going to have to do, unless this thing gets resolved,” he added.
Vilsack added that the cuts will also have a great impact on the other 250,000 employees at meat processing plants across the nation if meat inspectors are not able to do their jobs. It can be assumed that the effects could blossom outward toward the whole industry, from those that raise the cattle to those that raise the grain commodities needed to feed them – commodities like corn and wheat grown by farmers attending Commodity Classic.
Several have come forward and challenged the USDA, arguing that it is the department’s job and legal obligation to provide meat inspection services. But to this claim Vilsack countered that, while that’s true, the inflexibility of the sequester budget cuts means that there is no room to shift funds around – and with 87 percent of the FSIS budget going toward meat inspection, that facet of the agency is extremely vulnerable to the austerity measure. Still, he did apologize for the bind that the USDA is currently facing:
“Frankly, I have to apologize to all of you, because this is crazy what is happening,” he said. “This shouldn’t happen. In a functioning democracy, this shouldn’t happen. People should recognize that we have fiscal issues and we should address them – it’s a combination of additional revenue and cuts.”
[SOURCE: Food Safety News]