Questions have arisen about the impact that the federal government shutdown is having on the meat and poultry packing and processing industry. Below are examples from key agencies:
USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service
- U.S. meat and poultry slaughter plants inspected continuously and processing plants are inspected daily. Meat and poultry inspection continues despite the government shutdown because it is considered an essential service. As a result, in-plant oversight of food safety, application of proper product labels and humane slaughter are continuing normally.
- Border inspections also continue for imports.
- If a recall is needed, it will be managed by USDA.
- Microbiological monitoring and surveillance program continues.
Services Not Operating
- U.S. meat and poultry packers and processors must secure government approval of certain product labels before they are applied. Label application submissions continue to be sent to USDA headquarters during this shutdown and a backlog is expected when the government reopens. New products slated to be introduced or products that have been formulated require an updated label, like a product with a sodium reduction, cannot enter commerce without an approved label. This will create a major backlog for product introductions.
- The USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline for consumers with safe food handling questions is closed. Pre-recorded phone messages operate, as does the on line system AskKaren.
Agricultural Marketing Services
- Meat grading, which determines the quality grades for beef, pork and lamb, is a voluntary service that is continuing because the industry pays the fees associated with it.
- Daily transactions between livestock producers, as well as purchases of meat products, are contained in USDA market reports, which are no longer available during the shutdown. Products are commonly priced based upon these reports. Likewise, settlement of futures contracts from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange are based on the reports, as well. The absence of these reports is complicating business transactions.
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)
APHIS continues to provide fee for services that are directly related to animal health protection including issuance of export certificates for animal products.
Department of Homeland Security
Many meat companies use a voluntary program called “E-Verify” to ensure that new hires are eligible for employment. E-Verify is ordinarily available for used in the first three days after hire (not before hire). The system currently is not available, but DHS has made clear that the “three day rule” is being suspended.