Meat inspectors who will be furloughed under the automatic spending cuts that went into effect last Friday -- known as sequestration -- will continue to work for at least "several" more months.
That's according to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who at a House Agriculture Committee hearing Tuesday said that notices are being sent out to unions this week notifying them that furloughs are possible. Worker notification is a required step before any such cost-cutting measures go into effect.
That means meatpacking plants will have a few months before facing the threat of a temporary closure. Vilsack said such facilities cannot operate unless an inspector from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture is present, according to Bloomberg.
"We will do everything we can to minimize the disruption, he said. "We are looking at a several-month period before furloughs can be implemented.
For consumers, furloughs could mean a temporary shortage or higher prices. No inspectors on duty means no beef, pork, poultry or egg products can be processed and delivered to stores during that time.
The American Meat Institute, an industry lobbying group, has previously warned that furloughs could mean billions in lost sales for meat companies and contended that 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.
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