On Friday, the White House warned that federal spending cuts could force the U.S. meat industry to shut down for two weeks or longer.
Spending cuts set to take effect on March 1 may lead to the two-week furlough of every U.S. meat and poultry inspector. Without inspectors, the industry would be shut down.
Meatpackers and processors are not allowed to ship beef, pork, lamb and poultry without an Agricultural Department inspection seal.
They also warned that the cuts could lead to effects on everyday life, while meatpackers said it would likely devastate the industry.
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The "fiscal cliff" remains unresolved and has been delayed until March 1. With both sides disagreeing on it, many wonder if they will be able to set their differences aside and come together on a plan.
If they're unable to come to an agreement, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service will have to furlough its employees. This would lead to the meat industry losing close to $10 billion in production.
Consumers would see an increase in meat prices, as a meat shortage would likely follow.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, "There is not much we can do when Congress says to cut every line item by a certain percent." The majority of spending at the meat safety agency is on employees.
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Every year, the USDA spends $1 billion on meat safety. There are 8,400 inspectors at 6,290 slaughter and processing plants nationwide.
Livestock inspectors in Chicago, however, were skeptical of the White House warning.
Joseph Ocrant, a trader, is skeptical they will actually furlough inspectors for two weeks. "Can you imagine the flak?" he asked.
Meanwhile, the American Meat Institute said the USDA should have meat plants stay open while they are making the targeted cuts and avoid a mass furlough.