Wednesday the Senate passed its continuing resolution which will avoid the threat of a government shutdown March 27. The CR includes an amendment to avoid the threatened food safety inspectors furloughs.
Specifically the sequestration required an estimated $51 million cut to the Food Safety and Inspection Service budget, which U.S. Department of Agriculture top officials had said would force 11 furlough days beginning in July.
The amendment transfers $55 million in existing agriculture funds to FSIS in order to ensure food inspectors are not furloughed. These facilities are required by law to have federal inspectors on the production line in order to operate. It moves one-time funding for school equipment grants and deferred maintenance on buildings and facilities at USDA.
Sens. Mark Pryor (D., Ark.) and Roy Blunt (R., Mo.) proposed the amendment earlier in the week, but then found unanimous voice approval Wednesday.
The National Chicken Council (NCC) lauded the amendment's inclusion. "NCC and our members recognize that sequestration presents significant challenges that require USDA and all other federal government agencies to make difficult decisions to prioritize resources," said NCC president Mike Brown. "But cutting an essential, legally mandated program such as food safety inspection is not the way to address the government's budget deficit."
Two amendments proposed by Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) did not find approval. One – coined the biotech rider - would have stripped out language first placed in the CR by the House that would require USDA approve the harvest and sale of crops from biotech seed even if there is a court order declaring that the environmental studies on the crop were inadequate.
The House CR also included a provision that would rescind some of the provisions of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) regulations that provide transparency, disclosure and capital investment protections for poultry farmers in their contract relationship with poultry companies. Tester tried to overturn the GIPSA change, but was unsuccessful.
An amendment by Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) that would have slashed military biofuel funding and transferred the money to military maintenance also failed to pass. This is the third time, the Senate voted down an attempt to prevent the Department of Defense from using renewable fuels for its transportation needs.
The measure now goes to the House, and may see approval as soon as today (Thursday).