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For Immediate Release
March 8, 2013

USDA responds to Senators on Meat Inspector Furloughs

Senator Chuck Grassley made the following comment after receiving a response from Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about meat inspectors being furloughed as a result of sequestration.  Last week, Senator Chuck Grassley and eight other senators sent a letter to Vilsack expressing questions and concerns over the proposal to furlough meat and poultry product inspectors.  The Department of Agriculture’s response can be found here.

Here is a comment from Grassley.

“I’m concerned the Department of Agriculture is not doing everything possible to avoid something as drastic as furloughing meat and poultry product inspectors.  These furloughs mean lost production for more than just the meat and poultry product inspectors, but employees up and down the food chain.  The response I received today was unsatisfactory and left me with additional questions.  It’s hard to believe that staff members in the Office of the Secretary are only to be furloughed three days at the most, while furloughs of up to eleven or twelve days may happen for meat and poultry product inspectors.  In addition, I would still like to see the legal memos prepared by the administration’s legal team that clearly lays out the department’s ability to furlough meat and poultry product inspectors.

“I also have additional questions since my initial letter.   For instance, I would like to know more about the information and instructions that have been provided to field offices of the Food Safety and Inspection Service.  I am curious if they have received the same type of message the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service employee in North Carolina received, in which he was apparently instructed not to look for ways to use flexibility in making spending cuts.  In addition, I want to know why the department continues to advertise job openings, even openings for meat inspectors, while the threat of furloughs is looming.  The fact is there are still more questions than answers regarding the Department’s plan to furlough inspectors despite the harm it will cause to farmers, meat and poultry product processors, and consumers.  So, I plan on sending a follow-up letter, and I will keep asking questions until I am satisfied that we are getting the full story and rationale behind the administration’s plans.”