AMI: Federal government required by law to provide meat inspection

AMI: Federal government required by law to provide meat inspection

Posted Feb. 12, 2013

Talk of sequestration and the possible furloughs of meat and poultry inspectors has prompted a strong response from the American Meat Institute in Washington, D.C.

In a letter to President Obama yesterday, AMI President J. Patrick Boyle said the U.S. government has a statutory obligation to provide meat and poultry inspection services even if sequestration occurs.

“Without inspection, meat and poultry processing plants are prohibited by law from operating,” Boyle wrote.

AMI is a national trade association that represents companies that process 95 percent of the red meat and 70 percent of the turkey in the U.S. and their suppliers throughout America.

“As the possibility of sequestration becomes more real, so does the threat to the industry’s ability to provide a critical component of the food supply,” Boyle wrote, adding that USDA inspectors have historically been deemed “essential” personnel. He said that for many years, the Office of Management and Budget has deemed essential those employees whose “activities [are] essential to ensure continued public health and safety, including safe use of food, drugs and hazardous materials.”

“In that regard, the mission statement on the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s web site states: ‘The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is the public health agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture responsible for ensuring that the nation’s commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe, wholesome and correctly labeled and packaged,’” he added.

Boyle noted comments made by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last week in which he said it may be necessary to furlough meat inspectors for up to two weeks, an action Vilsack estimated would cost the industry $10 billion and cost employees $400 million in lost wages.

“It is incumbent upon the secretary to examine the options available and develop a plan to provide inspection services, e.g., furlough non-essential agency personnel, in order to satisfy the duty imposed on him by the Federal Meat Inspection Act and Poultry Product Inspection Act,” Boyle said.