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Meat shortage could be triggered by sequestration, White House warns

February 15, 2013|By Shan Li
  • Sequestration could shut down a large portion of the U.S. meat industry for two weeks, the White House warns.
Sequestration could shut down a large portion of the U.S. meat industry… (Simon Dawson / Bloomberg )

Now may be time to hoard the bacon and load up on steaks.

The White House put out a warning that sequestration -- or the steep, automatic spending cuts set to take effect in March -- may result in furloughing every meat and poultry inspector for two weeks, effectively shutting down a major part of the U.S. meat industry.

Factories are required to get inspection approval before shipping out their meat. So no inspectors means no beef, pork, poultry or egg products can be processed and delivered to stores during that time.

Quiz: How much do you know about looming federal budget cuts?

The possible meat shortage was part of a broader warning from the Obama administration about the effect of sequestration on day-to-day life for many Americans. The meat industry would also be hurt.

The American Meat Institute, a lobbying group on behalf of the industry, said a furlough could mean billions in lost sales for meat companies and contended that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had a legal obligation to provide inspection services.

"It is incumbent on the Secretary to examine the options available and develop a plan to provide inspection services ... in order to satisfy the duty imposed on him," Patrick Boyle, the group's chief executive, said in a statement.

In response, Vilsak said in a letter to the industry that such an option would be "the last option."

But, he added, if the United States Department of Agriculture had its budget slashed, there would be "no choice but to furlough its employees."

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Follow Shan Li on Twitter @ShanLi

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