U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was able to shed some light on the impact of sequestration at Commodity Classic.
The meat inspection system is one area that has been talked about a great deal. Vilsack explained that he has few options when it comes to operating the system. By law - he said USDA can’t move funds from one area to another and 87-percent of the Food Safety and Inspection Service budget goes to pay food inspectors and the people who support the food inspectors. He says just five-percent goes to operating expenses and the remainder is for labs and testing.
Vilsack added that federal regulations limit the number of days an individual can be furloughed to 22 days. So even if everyone else was furloughed for 22 days - he said you would still have to furlough inspectors. Furlough notices will be sent out to FSA and NRCS within the next few weeks.
The Ag Census could fall victim to sequestration. Vilsack indicated the census may not be completed. He also indicated many land grant universities who receive grants from the department would see the level of those funds reduced. He wasn’t as clear on how other farm programs would be affected and said many other decisions on USDA operations are still to be made.
Vilsack said this could all be solved if Congress would pass a budget and a farm bill. He said USDA will try to implement the process they created, passed and approved as equitably as possible.