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Sequestration Key Topic at House Ag Appropriations Hearing

Friday, March 15, 2013

(American Meat Institute)

Budget concerns under sequestration dominated a House Agriculture Appropriations hearing this week, where USDA Under Secretary Elizabeth Hagen, M.D., and Food Safety and Inspection Service Administrator Al Almanza testified before lawmakers and detailed the administration’s plan to furlough meat inspectors on the same 11 days between July and September 20. 


The testimony from the two was inconsistent, however, and suggests that the precise plan may not be finalized yet.  The union contract requires that the inspectors be notified 30 days before any furloughs are implemented and AMI understands that notification has not yet occurred. 


“At this point we are not worried about the safety of these products and that is one thing that will protect producers and protect packers and processors because product cannot go out the door without a mark of inspection on it,”  Hagen said.  In a contrasting comment, Almanza acknowledged the flexibilities available to the agency.  ”We have a number of flexibilities with our inspection personal.  Basically those are CSI positions that can perform both processing and slaughter inspection procedures.”


But Hagen claimed rolling furloughs were not an option.  “When we begin moving people around to assignments they haven’t had, training them for assignments they don’t normally working in. . .then we start to worry about food safety,” she said.  “But the main concern driving that is being fair and equitable.   If we start in one part of the country or one particular product class or one type of establishment and that particular sector gets impacted. . . there is no way to produce a fair and equitable impact by rolling this across the country.”

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