The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) says it is “severely disappointed” in Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s recent statement regarding the sequestration process and the possible 15-day furlough of all Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) employees, including meat inspectors at the nation’s beef processing plants.
NCBA president Scott George accuses Vilsack of “using America’s cattlemen and women as pawns in the agency’s political wrangling with Congress”.
Colin Woodall is the vice president of government affairs for NCBA. “This is an unfortunate situation that we see from USDA with the Secretary’s comments,” Woodall says. “We think there are a lot of non-essential cuts that could be made at USDA to cover whatever budget restrictions are going to be required.
“We feel that inspection is an essential function and component of USDA, and should be maintained.”
Woodall says if packing plants were to shut down, it would cause a complete stoppage in the flow of cattle, all the way back down to the producer level. He says that would cost the industry tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars.
“That is a huge concern for us,” he says. “We do not see any reason whatsoever that the sequestration cuts should be put on the back of cattle producers—and, more importantly, but jeopardizing the flow of beef—because we know in order to have a safe product and to move forward with our industry we have to have those inspectors in these plants.
“It’s essential that we do that.”
Woodall says NCBA continues to converse with officials of USDA and members of Congress to make sure they are aware of the consequences of such cuts.