WASHINGTON, D.C. – March 20, 2013 – The U.S. Senate today passed an amendment as part of the Continuing Resolution to fund the government that will provide flexibility to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to prevent furloughs of front line food safety inspectors at federally inspected meat and poultry plants.
The National Chicken Council (NCC) lauded the amendment’s inclusion.
“NCC and our members recognize that sequestration presents significant challenges that require USDA and all other federal government agencies to make difficult decisions to prioritize resources,” said NCC President Mike Brown. “But cutting an essential, legally mandated program such as food safety inspection is not the way to address the government’s budget deficit. Senators Pryor, Blunt, Coons, Carper, and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Mikulski and Ranking Member Shelby, are to be commended for their bipartisan leadership and their work to avoid this potential crisis.”
“This is a victory that will ensure the federal government can continue to meet its core duties, protect jobs, maintain exports, prevent harm to Rural America and help keep food affordable for all Americans,” Brown continued. “I urge the House to promptly pass the bill that came out of the Senate, and I look forward to the president’s signature thereafter.”
Through this process, NCC has contended that furloughing FSIS inspectors would be inconsistent with the mandates of the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act and the Egg Products Inspection Act, which prohibit the production, processing, or interstate distribution of meat, poultry and egg products without federal inspection.
“The amendment that passed today puts a fine point on the requirements of these mandates,” Brown added.
The $55 million in funding provided in the bill will not exempt FSIS from sequester cuts, but will put additional funding back into the account in order to try to prevent furloughs of front line food safety inspectors. It provides the administration with the flexibility to ensure “essential” federal employees continue to provide vital services, including meat and poultry inspection.
The funding is offset by decreasing accounts that were increased above the FY12 level in the Omnibus bill, including USDA’s Building and Facilities account. These offsets will not negatively impact USDA.
Last month, NCC and almost 40 other meat, poultry, food and grocery manufacturing and restaurant associations sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging that the department deem USDA food safety inspectors essential employees in the wake of any budget cuts.