Budget-busting burgers: Beef, chicken supply could be casualties of Congress, Obama sequester fight

Food shortages may be one effect

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On Thursday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano said that the amount of work time lost because of furloughs this year would be equivalent to cutting 5,000 Border Patrol agents from a force of 21,370.

She also said airport screeners would be cut, and so would cargo inspectors at ports of entry — meaning longer lines and disrupted supply chains.

Danny Werfel, federal controller at the White House budget office, said the cuts would also mean most air traffic controllers will be furloughed one day per pay period for the rest of the year, which he said would mean flight delays.

The cuts will also affect government contractors, and should force those companies to send official notices to their employees warning of furloughs or potential layoffs under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.

But so far, the government has told companies not to bother sending the notices, arguing it’s still too early to know what specific cuts will happen.

“A blanket notice is neither appropriate nor legally sufficient under the Warn Act,” Jane Oates, assistant secretary for employment and training at the Labor Department, testified to Congress on Thursday.

The Obama administration has also told companies they will be reimbursed for legal costs they incur for failing to send out the notices.

Republicans blasted the policy.

“That’s right: The Obama administration is telling employers to ignore the law and forcing taxpayers to pick up the tab,” said Rep. Tim Walberg, Michigan Republican.

Amid the posturing, the cuts still loom.

One New Mexico school district that relies heavily on federal funds would lose about 30 percent of its budget, Education Secretary Arne Duncan testified Thursday.

Another effect would be the cuts to the Food Safety and Inspection Service, which is part of the Agriculture Department.

Under federal law, the service’s inspectors must be present at meat processing plants. Because most of the service’s budget is salaries for inspectors, furloughs will be required for the agency to meet its new lower budget — which means plants will have to close for 15 days because of the lack of inspectors.

Mr. Pryor said that means a loss of 3 billion pounds of beef and pork production, up to 3.3 billion pounds of poultry, and more than 200 million pounds of eggs.

By way of contrast, American companies produced 26.4 billion pounds of beef, 22.5 billion pounds of pork and 37.2 billion pounds of chicken in 2010, according to the meat industry.

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