The possibility that U.S. meat, poultry and egg products inspectors may be furloughed March 1 if sequestration – automatic, across-the-board cuts to the federal budget – were to go into effect, would result in considerable losses to livestock and poultry farmers, declared the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and 37 other trade associations.

NPPC said it strongly believes furloughing USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspectors is a highly inappropriate response to sequestration and would not be in the public interest.

In a letter sent Friday to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the groups said that furloughing inspectors would close meat, poultry and egg products plants for more than two weeks and inflict substantial hardships on thousands of inspected establishments, hundreds of thousands of people directly employed by these industries and government employees.

Furloughing inspectors would also mean farmers raising livestock and poultry would have nowhere to send their animals and would suffer substantial losses; the robust U.S. export trade in meat, poultry, and egg products would all but dry up; imports would be halted at the border; schools and other public institutions relying on contracted-for meat and poultry products may not be able to obtain alternate sources of affordable, wholesome protein; and American consumers could face their first widespread shortage of meat, poultry, and egg products in generations.

The potential furlough would be inconsistent with the mandates of the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act and the Egg Products Inspection Act, which prohibit the production, processing or interstate distribution of meat, poultry and egg products without federal inspection.

NPPC recognizes that sequestration presents significant challenges that require USDA and all other federal government agencies to make difficult decisions to prioritize resources, but believes cutting an essential, legally mandated program such as food safety inspection is not the way to address the government’s budget deficit.