* Without USDA inspectors, meat plants would have to close
* Production losses of $10 billion possible
* White House ties budget cuts to everyday life
WASHINGTON, Feb 8 The Obama administration said
on Friday across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect in
March may result in furloughing every U.S. meat and poultry
inspector for two weeks, causing the meat industry to shut down.
By law, meatpackers and processors are not allowed to ship
beef, pork, lamb and poultry meat without the Agriculture
Department's inspection seal.
The prospect of mass furloughs of meat and food inspectors
was part of a broader White House warning about what effects
government spending cuts due to take effect in March would have
on everyday life.
President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans still
must resolve differences over spending cuts and tax increases,
dubbed the "fiscal cliff," which essentially was delayed by both
sides from happening on Jan. 1 and was pushed back until March.
"USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service may have to
furlough all employees for approximately two weeks," a White
House statement said.
An estimated $10 billion in production would be lost during
a two-week furlough, said a USDA official, and consumers could
see meat shortages and higher prices as a result.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack lamented across-the-board
spending cuts during a speech to state agriculture directors on
"There is not much we can do when Congress says to cut every
line item by a certain percent," said Vilsack. He said employee
pay accounted for the bulk of spending at the meat safety
USDA spends about $1 billion on meat safety annually and has
8,400 inspectors at 6,290 slaughter and processing plants.
"Our common goal is to ensure that inspections remain
unhindered," said the National Cattleman's Beef Association,
speaking for ranchers and cattle feeders.
Americans consume more than 200 pounds (91 kg) of meat
apiece each year, an average of slightly more than one-half
pound a day.