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May 6, 2013

Business as usual for local meat plants

Local industry reps praise sequestration-dodging amendment.

It’s been business as usual for local meat distributors over the last month after the federal government put measures in place to avoid the furloughing of inspectors threatened by the national budget sequestration initiated in March.

According to a press release from the American Meat Institute, $55 million was redirected from U.S. Department of Agriculture accounts to its Food Safety and Inspection Service through an amendment sponsored by Senators Mark Pryor, R-Arizona, and Roy Blunt, R-Missouri.

Had this measure not been enacted, it would have resulted in the furloughing of meat inspectors later this year. Inspectors would have had to take 12 days off by the end of 2013, which those in the meat industry say would have slowed down production and caused a negative ripple effect from farm to grocery store.

Gary Jacobson, president of Indiana Packers in Delphi, said the positive economic effects of allowing the industry to function as is far outweigh any savings the sequester would have created.

“It was the right decision,” he said of the amendment. “It was a hugely important decision because the cost of shutting down to the economy was 15 or 20 times higher than what the savings would have been had they done the sequestration.”

Jacobson went on to say inspections are not only a critical part of food safety, but of productivity as well, as meatpacking plants are staffed based on coverage required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“When you pull that out, it’s a big wrench in the works,” he said. “From the hog producer all the way through to the end users in the grocery store are impacted by that input.... It’s a domino thing all the way through.”

Sarah Ford, media representative for the trade association Indiana Pork, commended the decision as well, saying it will ensure farmers will not have to take on losses from disrupted plant production.

“Additionally, it ensures that our robust trade market continues to operate as normal,” Ford said in an email. “Most importantly, meat inspectors are vital to public health and deserve to be treated as essential employees.”

The National Pork Producers Council, the national organization Indiana Pork is a part of, lobbied for Congress to make the change.

“Because federal establishments may not produce meat, poultry, or egg products without federal inspection, furloughing inspectors would effectively shutter meat, poultry, and egg products plants for more than two weeks, imposing significant hardship on thousands of inspected establishments and hundreds of thousands of people directly employed by these industries, not to mention the affected government employees,” the council stated in a Feb. 11 letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack that was signed by more than 40 organizations.

Mitchell Kirk is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5130 or mitchell.kirk@pharostribune.com.

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