United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said Feb. 15 he is not crying wolf when warning that meat processing plants could go out of business if Congress fails to pass a budget by March 1.
“Every production line needs an inspector at the end, and if we have to furlough them, then production will stop,” Vilsack told the Des Moines Register editors and reporters.
If they are shut down, it will cost the U.S. economy about $10 billion, according to an estimate from the United States Department of Agriculture.
“This would be horrible,” Vilsack said. “Not only would the inspectors be furloughed, but the production workers at the plants could be laid off as well.”
The cuts to meat and poultry inspections are part of a package that will take effect March 1 if politicians fail to develop an alternative budget.
A proposal from Debbie Stobenow, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, is calling for a $27.5 billion cut in direct subsidies to farmers as an alternative to the layoffs, but admitted she has not yet consulted Republicans.
The USDA does inspections for red meat, poultry and eggs. The Food and Drug Administration inspects other food, drug and cosmetic production and would be forced into a similar reduction of inspections.