The House of Representatives passed a continuing resolution Thursday that funds all federal programs through Sept. 30, including $55 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service. The Senate approved the funding bill Wednesday, with an amendment sponsored by Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., that added the money for FSIS inspectors, who are required in packing plants that process meat, poultry and eggs.
Sens. Mike Johanns, Deb Fischer and other senators from the central states pressed the USDA after Sec. Tom Vilsack said a month ago that inspectors might have to be furloughed because of the “sequester” budget cuts.
Johanns, a former USDA secretary, was especially persistent, criticizing USDA plans to spend money on wild horse adoption programs while laying off food inspectors.
In the end, Congress appropriated enough money.
“This is very good news for pork producers and other livestock and poultry producers,” said Randy Spronk, a hog farmer and president of the National Pork Producers advocacy group. “Federal meat inspection is a function that should be maintained to protect the public health by ensuring the safety of the U.S. meat supply.”
Vilsack said last month that federal budget sequestration – automatic across-the-board cuts – could force furloughs of up to 15 days for FSIS inspectors. More recently, USDA was considering furloughs of one day a week for 11 weeks between July and Sept. 30 – the end of the 2013 fiscal year, the NPPC said.
Without inspectors, packing plants cannot process meat.
The money for FSIS is offset by not increasing funds for USDA’s building and facilities account and its School Breakfast Grant Program as much as was requested in the original continuing resolution.
Both, however, receive more funding in fiscal 2013 than they did in fiscal 2012, the NPCC said.