Sequestration Is a Big Deal — Why USDA Inspectors Are Vital to the Meat Industry

image from here

There’s a lot of hubbub about potentially furloughing all USDA meat inspectors for two weeks beginning on March 1. My friend Jenny, who has spent countless days working in her family’s meat locker, wrote a fantastic post about the potential impact of no inspectors in the meat plant for two weeks. Please go read it, she’s very smart and well-versed and one heck of a great lady!

While reading through the comments on her post (and adding a few of my own), I noticed that a few readers seemed to be missing the point. While I agree that the potential furlough could very well be a political ploy to get Congress to increase the budget (tsk, tsk) I think it’s important that every meat eater be aware of the critical role inspectors play in our meat supply – from slaughter to sales.

To explain this, I’ll be referencing the Federal Meat Inspection Act. I won’t be explaining each and every subheading from the FMIA in detail but if you want to look at it in its entirety, feel free to do so.

1. Under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, it is required by law that all animals that are sent to be slaughtered be inspected by a federal USDA meat inspector for signs of disease or illness. 603(b)

2. Livestock or horses (including sheep, goats, poultry, swine, cattle, and mules) that are found to have disease or injury are set apart and slaughtered separately; they are not to enter the food supply. 603 (b)

3. After slaughter and exsanguination, during which a USDA inspector is present to ensure all animals are slaughtered humanely, carcasses are inspected several times during processing and break down by the inspector. Once approved, they are stamped with a non-toxic ink stamp to show that the animal has been inspected and approved by USDA food safety guidelines and a licensed inspector. If a part of a carcass, or a whole carcass, does not pass inspection it is condemned (and stamped with a condemn stamp) and then disposed from the human food supply in the presence of the inspector. (604)

A butcher points to the USDA Insp’d and P’S’D stamp on a beef carcass.
A close up of an Inspected and Passed

4. All meat food products are inspected by USDA inspectors before they leave the plant or processing facility. This is true not only for slaughter plants but also meat processing facilities such as rendering, salting or canning as well. Products not fit for human consumption are marked as condemned and removed from human food supply (606). This goes for meat that stays in the domestic US food supply but also for meat exported to other countries.

5. Inspectors not only closely watch the quality and cleanliness of slaughter and meat processing but also are keeping a keen lookout for negligence in the sanitation of plants. If any product is found to be adulterated, it is condemned and disposed of forthwith. (608)

This FMIA is a very long document and outlines a lot of things but I just wanted to highlight the points that I think are pertinent to this specific conversation. The above five topics outline the process by which we know our meat is safe to eat because it’s been inspected continually and repeatedly. I have eaten meat that was slaughtered and prepared in less regulated markets outside the U.S. and I will attest that I did not have a pleasurable eating experience. Quality assurance is a must.

In summary:

  • Livestock CANNOT be slaughtered without inspectors present. So, no inspectors = no slaughter.
  • You guessed it, no slaughter = no deceased livestock = no meat products.
  • No meat products for two weeks will mean an eventual decrease in supply and an eventual hike in meat prices. All meat prices – pork, chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, horse… wait, we don’t slaughter horses in the U.S right now even though we technically can. Find out about that here. Basically, if a meat locker or facility is federally inspected, during sequestratoin that facility won’t be able to slaughter livestock if the inspectors aren’t present.

I hope that I have cleared some of the smoke that is around this issue – conspiracy theory, deprivation of choice etc. The hard facts are that if the sequestration occurs, the meat industry will come to a halt and we will eventually feel the hard and lingering effects.

UPDATE: Thank you to readers who pointed out that the furloughs might not take place on March 1, furloughs may take place in the form of hourly time off and that USDA employees will have 30 days notice before a furlough occurs. However, this post is meant to outline the importance of inspectors and how things can’t operate if they aren’t on duty. Thanks to Heather T and Angie W for pointing out those facts!

Until next time,
~ Buzzard ~


11 responses to “Sequestration Is a Big Deal — Why USDA Inspectors Are Vital to the Meat Industry”

  1. Heather T Avatar

    It is my understanding that all govt employees will be given a 30 day notice before being furloughed. The March 1st deadline is for the budget yes but that is not the date everyone will "stop working". Also from what I have read these furloughs may not even start until May.

    If they are like many govt agecnies they maybe offered to be furloughed a couple hours a day or a day off per week. It would not necessarily be consequetive days. I don't think the details have been hammered out yet. Because these guys perform an essential role I would expect the hourly furlough.

    While it may make this difficult IF it happens I do not think everything will come to a screeching halt. This is more political than anything else.

  2. Heather – if all furloughs were to take place at one time, things would come to a halt, but I completely understand what you're saying in terms of if they were to take hourly furlough. I haven't heard any of that or specific details either. I don't like how that would work out though – less regulation and the same amount of slaughter taking place? That could be lawsuits…

  3. cont'd – that could mean lawsuits if on the off-chance some adulterated meat got through the lines. Thanks for pointing out that information and also for reading and commenting!

  4. Yes, in our office we've been told that we will have 30 days notice before a furlough day. We have also been told that the furlough will not be an entire pay period as of right now. All the emails we get say that is the last option, but our unions were informed of the possibility yesterday so it's becoming more of a real thing across all of USDA. I can keep you posted.

  5. AW – that would be fantastic – thank you so much!

  6. One small correction on slaughter and inspection. If furloughs do happen, it won't have any effect on custom slaughter or on farms slaughtering under the 1,000 bird exemption or on those plants slaughtering poultry and other voluntary inspection animals under the 20,000 bird exemption.

  7. Joanne – correct. That's why I have written that only those facilities who are federally inspected will be affected by a furlough. I've clarified a few things too. I need to do a better job of making clear my points sometimes. Thank you for the comment!

  8. Here is a thought. Why does sequester have to mean furlough of critical positions? The Department of Defense recently funded a study to determine the color of feathers of prehistoric birds. Think meat inspection might be a little more important? The reality is that our President intentionally wants to make the cuts in areas where it "hurts" people instead of focusing on cutting waste where there is a low priority. It is not the sequester that is a bad thing, it is how the incompetent people in Washington DC are making choices in implementing the sequester. We are not talking about making huge slashes in government spending, we are talking about spending less than the planned increase from the prior year. In the last twelve years, our population is up by about 11%. But our federal government spending is up by 98%. But yet with this metoric rise in the last decade it seems pretty plausible that we could find a mere 2% of the budget to cut without jeopardizing things like food safety.

  9. D – I agree. I don't feel like some of our leaders are being held accountable for their actions and it's very frustrating. Even more frustrating now that you've brought to light the study about prehistoric bird feathers….

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  10. I just found your blog today and am loving it! You are providing information that is easy to grasp and understand..even for this city gal turned country. Thank you!!

  11. City Life – Thanks so much for reading and I"m glad you found me! Feel free to ask questions whenever or contribute with comments! Thanks!