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National Restaurant Association - USDA’s Vilsack talks sequester, inspector furlough concerns

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USDA’s Vilsack talks sequester, inspector furlough concerns

Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, recently spoke out regarding the potential furloughing of food inspectors in the event of sequestration.

Vilsack, in an interview with Reuters news service, said sequestration could cause sporadic food shortages if inspectors aren’t available to examine meat, poultry and egg products.

The USDA has been looking into furloughing food inspectors when sequestration   $85 billion in automatic federal budget cuts – kicks in March 1, unless Congress agrees on an alternative budgetary plan.

Vilsack responded to industry concerns that furloughing inspectors could affect restaurants’ business operations and the safety of food products in general.

Vilsack said in the interview that if sequestration occurs, furloughing would not happen immediately. He also noted that the USDA might be forced to lay off the nation’s 8,400 meat inspectors for the equivalent of 15 days to get the savings the agency needs. However, he added that layoffs would be staggered to cushion the impact.

Earlier this month, the National Restaurant Association sent a letter to Vilsack asking him to reconsider his furlough plan. The letter was signed by numerous trade associations representing the food industry, including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Chicken Council, National Pork Producers Council, United Egg Producers and the Food Marketing Institute.

“We recognize sequestration presents significant challenges that require the USDA and all other federal government agencies to make difficult decisions to prioritize resources,” the letter stated, “but cutting an essential, legally mandated program such as food safety inspection is not the way to address the government’s budget deficit.”

The NRA said furloughing inspectors would have trickle-down effects on everyone from farmers raising livestock and poultry to the U.S. export trade in meat, poultry and egg products.

If the plan is carried through, it would cause “significant disruption to the lives of millions of American citizens as well as millions of dollars in financial harm,” the NRA said.

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