How the USDA Hacked the Sequester
Tom Vilsack got $55M in new money for meat inspectors
By Evann Gastaldo, Newser Staff
Posted Apr 1, 2013 7:51 AM CDT
In this July 18, 2012, file photo, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack talks about the drought during a press briefing at the White House in Washington.   (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

(Newser) – There's no way to get out of the sequester's mandatory budget cuts, right? Wrong—at least for the USDA. Just three weeks after the sequester hit, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack found a way around it, snagging $55 million in new money for meat inspectors—just about the same amount the sequester took in the first place. The Washington Post has the inside story of what it calls Vilsack's "sharp political theater": He started warnings back in February about how bad the sequester would be for the USDA meat inspection program, insisting that workers would be furloughed for weeks, which would ultimately lead to US meat production being shut down for at least 11 days.

"The problem is, as soon as you take an inspector off the floor, that plant shuts down," Vilsack said at one agriculture industry conference, detailing the potential $10 billion in lost production, not to mention the food scarcity and safety issues. The meat inspectors' union and some in the meat lobby didn't quite believe him—budget cuts aren't a valid excuse to stop providing meat inspectors, as the USDA is required to do whenever a plant is running—but he scared them, and they backed him up. Vilsack insisted to a similarly skeptical House that there were no other alternatives, and the meat lobby got two senators behind the cause. Thus, $55 million that had been meant for other USDA programs went to the meat inspection program instead. Congressional leaders insist it was a one-time exception, but other interest groups are already making plans to try the same tactic.

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Apr 1, 2013 8:03 PM CDT
I'm okay with this. please go on keeping our food safe.
Apr 1, 2013 4:02 PM CDT
Because the economy is in such great shape (sarcasm), neither I nor any of my coworkers received the full raises in January that we were promised during our annual reviews in November. Can we file unemployment for the pay "cuts" we had to take in January? Interestingly, the Employment Security Department says, "No. That's not a pay cut." Only in the United States of America can politicians call "not increasing spending as much as we wanted to" a "cut" and be allowed to get away with it by the media and the public. Words (used to) mean things.
Apr 1, 2013 12:38 PM CDT
Jack in the Box E. coli Outbreak: Riley Detwiler’s Story By James Andrews | January 22, 2013Twenty years ago, 623 people in the western U.S. fell ill with a little-known bacteria called E. coli O157:H7. Ultimately, four children would die from their infections; many others suffered long-term medical complications. The bug was later traced to undercooked hamburger served at Jack in the Box restaurants. This outbreak thrust foodborne illness onto the national stage as a real and present threat, sparking a sea change in the way Americans and the government treat this issue. To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 1993 Jack in the Box outbreak, Food Safety News has produced a series of retrospective stories chronicling the outbreak itself and how food safety in America has changed since that time. This profile of Riley Detwiler is the first in the series.