US budget cuts won't hit meat inspectors immediately -USDA chief

WASHINGTON Thu Feb 21, 2013 12:34pm EST

WASHINGTON Feb 21 (Reuters) - Although federal budget cuts are scheduled for March 1, it could be months before a threatened shutdown of U.S. meat plants would occur because of a furlough of meat inspectors, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Thursday.

Vilsack said work rules vary for USDA employees, who get from 30 to as many as 120 days, or four months, notice of layoffs.

"I'm not sure what it is in the food safety area," Vilsack told reporters at the annual USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum after warning that a two-week furlough of all inspectors may be unavoidable.

USDA has raised the prospect of the furlough repeatedly in the past two weeks.

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