Vilsack: Furloughs won’t be immediate

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says that, although federal budget cuts are scheduled for March 1, it could be weeks—or even months—before a shutdown of U.S. meat plants would occur because of a furlough of meat inspectors.

Vilsack says there are several employee union agreements mandating some amount of advance notice before someone is furloughed.

“Some are 30 days, some are 60 days—I think some are 120 days,” Vilsack says. “So whatever the labor agreement and whatever the union is that we’re dealing with, that will dictate when notices will be sent and when actions will be implemented.”

According to Reuters, Vilsack is expected to testify at a House Agriculture Committee hearing on Tuesday, the first opportunity for lawmakers to ask for details about the budget cuts.

Republican Mike Conaway of Texas, chairman of a House Agriculture subcommittee, wrote Vilsack this week to argue that the USDA was obliged by law to carry out meat inspections and to say the agency should seek the least disruptive way to curtail spending.

The Reuters report says government spending cuts could also affect some of the CME Group’s livestock and daily contracts.  The daily calculation of the CME feeder cattle index and CME lean hog index, as well as the monthly calculation used to determine settlement prices for CME dairy futures products, could be disrupted if USDA’s regular schedule of reports is altered by the sequester.

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