Poultry and meat inspection will continue during a government shutdown, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials told the media yesterday.  USDA made no official announcement, but several news reports had agency officials saying that inspectors would be exempted from the federal employee furloughs that are expected to occur if Congress fails to pass a spending resolution by midnight tonight.

NCC learned late yesterday afternoon of internal discussions within the Administration that indicated poultry and meat inspectors will be deemed essential personnel and will remain on duty.  In addition, the Wall Street Journal cited the federal Office of Management and Budget as the source for a statement that meat and poultry inspection would continue.  The Dow Jones news service said USDA grain inspectors who provide weighing and grading services also would remain on the job because their services are paid for by companies through user fees.

The National Chicken Council and National Turkey Federation urged President Obama to keep the inspectors on the job in a letter sent to the White House, USDA, and Congressional leaders on Thursday.  In past shutdowns, federal meat and poultry inspectors have been recognized as “essential” federal employees due to their role in protecting public health and safety and exempted from furlough.

“Withdrawal of inspection services would be completely unnecessary and could cause havoc for our industry and for our customers and consumers across the country and around the world,” said a letter from NCC President Mike Brown and NTF President Joel Brandenberger.

They pointed out that poultry and meat plants are required by law to have inspectors present during processing and that all poultry and meat products in interstate commerce are federally inspected.  Lack of inspection would close the plants, they said, throwing thousands of people out of work and leaving animals in transit with no place to unload.  Federal personnel are also needed to approve export permits, they said.

Loss of production for an extended period of time would drive up the cost of food for consumers, they added.

“We urge you to avoid these consequences by recognizing that federal meat and poultry inspectors are essential workers in the event of a shutdown,” they wrote. “This is not a partisan issue but one of public health and safety.”

The NCC-NTF letter is posted to NCC’s Web site www.nationalchickencouncil.com.