Well, it happened. Sequestration happened.
During the past few weeks, sequestration has become a dirty word — and for good reason. Air traffic control towers could be shut down, disability payments delayed, national security jeopardized, children kicked out of Head Start programs, teaching jobs put on the chopping block and thousands of jobs lost. Oh, and meat shortages, too. All because a few lawmakers can’t table their egos long enough to agree on budget cuts.
For the sake of everyone’s sanity, let’s focus on one possible downside of sequestration — potential meat shortages.
Which begs the question, how exactly could sequestration lead to meat shortages? Surely, government gridlock wouldn’t lead to a shortage of cattle or farmers, right?
Actually, you’re right. A potential meat shortage would stem not from a lack of cattle or farmers, but a lack of federal meat inspectors.
Last month, the Obama administration announced that spending cuts imposed under sequestration could result in cuts to the time that United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) meat inspectors spend on the floor of meat-packing plants.
USDA meat inspectors play an important role in the United States’ meat supply. They ensure the safety of the meat that U.S. consumers eat by making sure the every meat-packing plant in the US is monitored and inspected on a regular basis.
Essentially, the administration has proposed furloughing more than 6,000 USDA meat and poultry inspectors for up to two weeks, effectively idling the U.S. meat industry. The USDA spends about $1 billion on meat safety each year and has 8,400 inspectors at 6,290 slaughter and processing plants. Still, it seems like an odd place to trim the fat.
USDA inspectors play a vital role in making sure that all meat products shipped to grocery stores are safe for human consumption. In other words, food safety is a partnership and the government must participate in that partnership. Furloughing USDA meat inspectors isn’t the right kind of participation.
By law, meatpackers and processors are not allowed to ship beef, pork, lamb and poultry without the USDA’s inspection seal. And without USDA inspectors, there is no inspection seal.
What’s that mean for farmers? Another hit to a struggling, post-drought industry and the inability to move their products. What’s that mean for you? It means, potentially, less meat on the grocery store shelves.
It also means $10 billion in production losses and more than $400 million in lost wages for company employees. The losses for the more than one million livestock and poultry farmers in this country are incalculable.
You see, farmers don’t farm because it’s easy or because it’s just another job. They do it because they love their jobs and want to provide food for their families and yours. And when the government can’t afford to pay the USDA inspectors that make that meat available to your families, it hurts everyone.