A continuing resolution to prevent furloughs for U.S. meat inspectors passed the House on Thursday and is now awaiting President Obama’s signature. Food Safety News reports that the measure, introduced by Sens. Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), passed the House by a vote of 318 to 109 Thursday after speeding through the Senate, approved by a vote of 73 to 26.

Prior to the resolution’s passage, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) had provided details on how sequestration-related furloughs would be implemented.  In mid-March, Under Secretary of Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen had testified before the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee that the proposed plan included 11 furlough days, no more than one day a week and no more than two days per pay period, scheduled from July to September.  Furloughs would have been required of all 9,212 FSIS employees, including 8,136 meat inspectors and lab technicians.  

In order to avert the furloughs, the recently passed legislation will allow for the reallocation of $55 million in funds from other parts of USDA to the agency’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. This means that federal meat and poultry inspectors will not face furloughs and, consequently, meat plants will keep running without pause through the summer. This is particularly important to pork producers because meat and poultry plants can only operate when a federal inspector is present.

If inspectors could not do their jobs, the furloughs would have affected an estimated 500,000 workers at 60,000 plants, costing them nearly $400 million in wages.

Food Safety News reports that meat industry representatives praised Congress for approving the funding, which was included in a larger $984 billion spending bill.

“This is very good news for pork producers and other livestock and poultry producers,” National Pork Producers Council President Randy Spronk said in a statement Thursday. “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. We’re pleased meat inspections will continue, and we are very grateful to Sens. Blunt and Pryor for their efforts to protect food-animal producers and meat packers from costly losses and consumers from higher prices.”

Food Safety News says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who has voiced his support for the amendment, called its passing “an acknowledgment that sequestration left USDA with no other option but to furlough meat inspectors,” a statement that addressed skepticism over whether the meat inspector furloughs were really necessary under the sequester.

Follow this story at the Food Safety News Web site.

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