Consumers would see higher prices for meat and even temporary shortages.

According to a Reuters article, the USDA has raised the prospect of the furlough repeatedly in the past two weeks as $85 billion in federal budget cuts loom due to the automatic cuts agreed to in 2011. The agency has declined to discuss the timing of the furloughs, which could affect up to one-third of its 100,000 employees.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service would furlough 6,000 food inspectors for a few weeks.

Meat inspectors may qualify for 30 days' notice, an industry source told Reuters. Also according to Reuters, exchange operator CME Group has warned that government spending cuts could affect some of the exchange's livestock and daily contracts.

In a Wednesday letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Republican Mike Conaway of Texas, chairman of the House Agriculture subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management, said this plan would put both the meat industry and consumer safety at risk.


"This decision, if implemented, could disrupt the flow of commerce and the lives of millions of Americans, starting with meat and poultry industry and ending at America's dinner table," Conaway wrote.

"According to the American Meat Institute, furloughing FSIS inspectors is estimated to cost $10 billion in production losses to the industry. This industry and American consumers depend on the services provided by FSIS inspectors to ensure a safe and healthy food supply."

Conway requested of Vilsack "a detailed explanation of how the USDA plans to roll out its sequester cuts and a thorough analysis of how the USDA will continue fulfill its legal obligations under FMIA and PPIA should these cuts be implemented."

Vilsack is expected to testify at House Agriculture Committee hearing on Tuesday, at which time lawmakers can ask for details about the budget cuts.  end mark

—Compiled from various sources