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Some Suggest FSIS Furlough Would Solve America’s Health Problems

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FSIS furlough would be an economic, food safety and nutritional detriment.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s Feb. 8 announcement that USDA is considering a 15-day furlough of Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) personnel to reduce costs is troublesome, to say the least. Last week, Editor Joe Roybal asked the question, “Will FSIS furlough hold the food system hostage?” While some are saying it will be a non-issue, even if the furlough does occur, others see it as a political move using ranchers as pawns in a game we will struggle to win.

The repercussions of halting meat production for two weeks would be huge. J. Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute, pointed out that: “The U.S. government has a statutory obligation to provide meat and poultry inspection services.” Thus, he says, "It is incumbent upon the Secretary to examine the options available and develop a plan to provide inspection services, e.g., furlough non-essential agency personnel, in order to satisfy the duty imposed on him by the Federal Meat Inspection Act and Poultry Product Inspection Act."

From an economic standpoint, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) estimates that approximately 6,290 establishments would be impacted by this furlough, costing more than $10 billion in production losses, as well as over $400 million in lost wages.

After several organizations contacted Vilsack with concerns about this furlough, he replied, “Because we understand that furloughing our food safety inspectors would not be good for consumers, the economy, the meat and poultry industry, or our workforce, we view such furloughs as the last option we would implement to achieve the necessary sequestration cut. However, were sequestration to become a reality, it simply would not be possible for FSIS to achieve the requisite level of savings by furloughing non-front line staff alone as your letter suggests.”

Despite the huge consequences this furlough would have on everyone from ranchers to consumers, there are some celebrating this halt of meat production. The Californian featured an opinion piece from Susan Levin, director of nutrition education with the vegan group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). Keep in mind that not only is PCRM a vegan activist group, but fewer than 5% of its membership are actually practicing physicians. However, for a consumer reading this op-ed, Levin’s points would be alarming.

Levin writes, “On behalf of dietitians, I hope the furlough happens — and I hope it never ends.

"The real savings isn’t in keeping thousands of meat inspectors at home and unpaid for a few weeks — it’s in keeping meat off Americans’ plates and helping them cut the meat habit. A meat industry shutdown would actually give consumers — and their bodies — a much-needed break from the foods that are causing our nation’s worst health problems. Americans are addicted to meat. The average American now eats more than 200 lbs. of meat/year. This addiction results in higher rates of heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Withdrawal symptoms may include lower blood pressure, increased energy, and healthy weight loss.

“After just a few days without meat, people will notice a profound shift and realize how easy it is to follow a meatless diet. I predict that in two weeks or less, the nation’s worker productivity will increase, gyms will be fuller, and emergency rooms will have fewer visitors. We might even see Viagra sales plummet. Even in the short term, eating cheeseburgers and ham sandwiches kills our energy and causes the arteries to become clogged, reducing circulation to our most critical organs.”

While Levin wasn’t short on the dramatization, her figures just don’t add up. Americans today are eating less meat now than ever before. In fact, meat consumption in the U.S. dropped by 12% from 2007 to 2012, according to USDA projections. Yet, the obesity epidemic continues to escalate. Perhaps meat isn’t to blame after all. Eliminating a complete protein source like meat is hardly the way to solve America’s health woes.

While a discussion on the merits of meat in the diet is certainly warranted here, it will have to wait for a future blog post. Today’s post is dedicated to discussing this potential furlough and what it means to you. What do you think about this furlough? How will it impact your business? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Discuss this Blog Entry 13

Bryan (not verified)
on Feb 25, 2013

First of all, USDA could easily cut other non-essential personnel and services to satisfy the sequestration mandate. Second, the $85 billion in sequestration cuts are cuts in PROPOSED NEW SPENDING...and wouldn't have to affect any current spending. Third, if we ate more meat, milk, and eggs and put our kids back to work we'd be much healthier and require fewer social and health services!

Bryan (not verified)
on Feb 25, 2013

I should clarify a bit more...The $85 billion sequestration doesn't even cover the proposed new spending increases. Think about this: the last few years our government has spent approximately $1T more each year than it has taken from the taxpayers. $85B is only 8.5% of the $1T in excess spending!!! That's nothing; they would have to sequester $1T each year just to keep from overspending the budget. Oh, dare I mention they haven't passed one of those for at least 3 years either!

marthaj42 (not verified)
on Feb 25, 2013

Why furlough everyone for 15 days at once. How about doing 1/5 of the inspectors a day for a few weeks. That way the industry could adjust without shuting down altogher. Perhaps the govt wants to punish Americans in the most noticable way for wanting the govt to spend less.

on Feb 25, 2013

You answered your own question, marthaj42. The administration's intent is to make the cutbacks impact Americans' everyday lives as much as possible. Probably the administration's biggest worry is that such cuts will go unnoticed, thereby planting the see that perhaps all this government spending isn't really necessary.

Jimmy (not verified)
on Feb 25, 2013

thats very realistic, could actually just make some establishments patrol establishments instead of having 1 or 2 full time inspectors on duty

Randy (not verified)
on Feb 25, 2013

"In fact, meat consumption in the U.S. dropped by 12% from 2007 to 2012, according to USDA projections. Yet, the obesity epidemic continues to escalate. Perhaps meat isn’t to blame after all."
Wow. There's quite an interesting theory. Comparing one year's total meat consumption over the entire population with a still-increasing chronic disease to deny any relationship. Why have nutritionists, doctors, dietitians, and biochemists look at this? Just submit this to a peer-reviewed journal, sit back and wait for the Nobel committee to notify you of your award.

John R. Dykers, Jr. (not verified)
on Feb 25, 2013

Actually, Randy, that is a 5 year period. Beef with essential amino acids is good brain food; fat is what clogs arteries AND reduces hunger. Lean beef is surely less a contributor to obesity than doughnuts and sugared soft drinks!
Back to the furlough; be sure Sec. Vilsack starts with himself on a 4 day week!
John R. Dykers, Jr. johndykersmd@dykers.com

on Feb 25, 2013

Facts folks:
Fat in beef
30% steric acid
40% Oleic acid
both lower small dense LDL and raise HDL
remaining 30% neutral
fat in beef is heart healthy

Results of 50 years of low fat/high carb diet strategies
15% of children between six and 19 are overweight
70% of Americans are overweight
one half of this figure is nearing obese
19 million adults diagnosed with type II diabetes, one half of all adult Native Americans
79 million are pre-diabetic
90 million suffer from some form of cardiovascular disease
------------------------------------------
2010 American Journal of clinical nutrition
Authors: Harvard University
In a meta-analysis of 21 clinical diet studies
Is there an association between saturated fat intake and heart disease?
None
Major risk factors for CHD? Refined carbohydrates and excess adiposity

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 25, 2013

why don't we try some of the things private industry has used - reduction in salary by "x' say 10%, how about increasing portion of health care paid for by government employes, also go to 401k type pensions instead of the old style defined benefit pension plans - these would bring the federal government into alignment with private industry. Oh by the way instead of impacting line workers how about reducing the middle and upper management ranks again like private industry has done over the past several years

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 25, 2013

Perhaps you should look a little closer at the "pension" plan you are talking about. As a meat inspector, we are part of a 401k pension plan. And we have not had a cost-of-living increase in over 4 years unlike some of the private industry people that you talk about.

Jimmy (not verified)
on Feb 25, 2013

Just a couple true facts from a USDA Inspector. We have not had a raise since 2010 when the pay was frozen. The 0.5% proposed raise next month has been considered for freezing also and one news column stated that the govt may consider also not contributing to our FERS, the federal employee retirement system. As far as the response on increasing our health coverage payments I for one pay 138.43 dollars every pay period for my benefits which is well above private industry. As a federal employee and a US citizen/taxpayer I and my family have more than contributed our share of money toward the reckless spending habits of our government. The fulough of USDA inspection wont happen, the govt don't want tens of thousands of company employees out of work for 2 weeks, how would that look to put that many on unemployment roles, its all a Political Game.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 25, 2013

I agree with Jimmy. I am inspector also and we have did way more that anyone can ask ( no RAISE for FOUR YEARS). People have no idea what happens inside the plants. When people do learn of my occupation they are so happy. If we furlough we will run the risk of part two of "The Jungle" by April Sinclair.

Steve (not verified)
on Feb 26, 2013

You know I believe it all boils down that congress is simply not doing their job. They should be the first to take a pay AND benefit cut - no automatic raises, no life time retirement plan, and be required to have a balanced budget by a certain date or be ineligible for reelection. Better yet mandatory term limits and no post paid lobbing should be the next constitutional amendment! If anyone else who work in the private sector pulled their kind shambles, they would be permanently fired. Who is congress working for anyway - we the people?

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