Furloughs could impact animal welfare

by Monica Watrous
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LAUREL, Miss. – Furloughs for federal meat inspectors would spell a “terrible situation” for poultry processor Sanderson Farms Inc., the company said recently.

If the US Department of Agriculture suspends workers due to potential spending cuts, the company said it would suffer disrupted operations and plant shutdowns. Approximately 10,000 Sanderson Farms employees would be affected, the company said.

“It would be an animal-welfare issue and an environmental catastrophe for our industry,” said Joe Sanderson Jr., chief executive officer, in a call with financial analysts to discuss first-quarter results.

“When you have birds that are 60 to 62 days old scheduled to go to the plant and all of a sudden you don’t have inspectors and you leave those birds in that house two and three and four and five days longer, they crowd up and they’re going to die. I don’t think they have thought about that in Washington.”

Earlier this month, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warned that two-week furloughs for up to one-third of food inspectors may take place if lawmakers fail to agree on a spending package that would prevent automatic cuts on March 1.

“…My best judgment is that we’re supposed to have our best and brightest up there in Washington being able to work these things out,” Sanderson said. “And at the end of the day, I’m hopeful they’ll get that done.”

Sanderson Farms reported a loss of $6,943,000 during the quarter ended Jan. 31, challenged by high grain and feed costs and weak food service demand.

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