Meat prices could rise if federal budget is sliced

A side of beef is shown with the USDA inspection stamp. Across-the-board furloughs would reduce the number of food inspectors, possibly affecting prices and supplies of meat.

The threat of broad, sweeping federal budget cuts points out just how dependent a lot of things are on the federal government.

Including our dinner choices.

Sequestration could leave America's meat inspectors sitting on their couches at home, not inspecting meat. Between March and September, inspectors may need to take as many as 15 days off without pay.

Here's USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack at the Agriculture Outlook Forum last week: "The only way we can absorb a cut of this magnitude is by impacting the people who work in the Food Safety area of USDA."

Meat inspections aren't optional. So fewer meat inspectors means less meat and poultry and eggs, and maybe fewer jobs. The USDA estimates, all told, the sequestration could cost the industry $10 billion.

It'll also cost meat-eaters. Mark Dopp, with the American Meat Institute, says, "It could cause some prices to go up. On a particular day, you might not find at your grocery store the product that you wanted."

The bean and tofu lobbies are probably ecstatic. But don't get too worked up... not just yet.

"It's unimaginable to me that we can't find a better solution to the issue of sequestration than that," says John Anderson, deputy chief economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation. "I think that the means to deal with this in less disruptive ways are surely at hand or could be brought to hand fairly quickly."

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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