WASHINGTON, Feb. 13, 2013 – The looming budget sequestration, automatic across-the-board spending cuts, would not force the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to reduce meat inspections, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said today.
“I don’t know where that’s coming from,” Thune, a member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, told reporters during a conference call. “USDA will have latitude on cuts.”
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said that if Congress fails to avoid a sequester, which would take effect on March 1, the department would have to furlough food safety inspectors for 15 days. Stakeholders have said such a move could threaten the U.S. meat industry and cause skyrocketing prices for consumers.
“If a sequester takes effect, up to 2,100 fewer food inspections could occur, putting families at risk and costing billions in lost food production,” the White House wrote in a fact sheet published last Friday.
Still, Thune insisted that the department would be able to “selectively implement” any potential cuts.
“[The administration] picks a high profile item [for possible cuts], and if they make it uncomfortable and painful to people, they can get what they want,” Thune said.
Thune said he does not expect meat inspectors to “be in short supply” as a result of a sequester, which could lead to cuts of about 7.8 percent for the USDA.
The senator said he does expect a sequester to occur.
“The odds are good,” Thune said. “There will probably be a vote the week before in the Senate. If I was a betting man, I’d say the Democrats and Republicans will offer plans and neither will pass.”
On the upcoming farm bill, Thune said he expects the committee will consider a similar bill as last year’s Senate-passed legislation, but that senators are waiting for the March baseline before acting.
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