Sequestration could cause cutbacks in meat inspections
Sequestration is leaving government agencies across the nation scrambling to find ways to trim down.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is no exception; it's expecting cutbacks of $1 billion or more.
That’s prompting concerns about food-borne illness and higher meat prices.
The USDA is predicting it could have to furlough its meat inspectors for two or three weeks this year.
That would likely cause thousands of meat packing and processing plants throughout the country to temporarily shut down operations until the inspectors can go back to work.
Premier Meats in Viroqua has a full-time USDA inspector on site, as it kills, cuts, wraps and sells its meat every day.
"We can't ship anywhere out of state unless we have the USDA inspection. And we're processing here for East Coast, West Coast, and the Midwest. So it's imperative that we have an inspector,” said Premier Meats President Terry Hoyum.
Hoyum called the USDA this morning to find out how the sequestration will affect inspections for his business.
If the furloughs become a reality, Premier Meats could have to halt some of its operations temporarily.
“Another inspector would have to pick it up or we would have to hold off processing, in the kill department, more so," said Hoyum.
It could also mean sharing an inspector with other businesses.
La Crosse County Health Department Environmental Health and Lab Manager Jim Steinhoff said the cuts are a threat to public health.
"I'm worried that food safety might be affected. And with less people, more potential problems could leak through the process,” said Steinhoff. “I'm disappointed that the government is inflicting this on itself.”
For now, Hoyum said all he can do is wait, and try to stay positive.
"We understand the federal government is going through some cuts too, as they probably need to do. So we'll adjust, and we'll adapt and life goes on," said Hoyum.
These cuts reach far past the people in the meat industry. If meat processing facilities have to shut down operations temporarily, it could lead to rising prices at the grocery store.
Even though several meat packing plants in La Crosse County are inspected by state workers, many meat products sold here in stores and in restaurants come from out of state. Any meat sold out of state has to go through a USDA inspector.
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