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Sequester Affects All Levels Of Food Supply

Over time, the sequester will lead to meat shortages, fewer FDA inspections of food processors, cuts to food banks and reductions in farmer credit.

A hundred-dollar bill cut into many pieces

Photo: Tax Credits (Flickr)

The sequester will see budget cuts that touch every level of the American food supply system, from farm to table.

On March 1, The United States crashed over the so-called “fiscal cliff,” forcing the federal government to begin the implementation of an $85 billion reduction in spending.

Due to the U.S. Government’s significant involvement in food markets in the form of regulation, agricultural assistance and anti-poverty programs, the sequester stands to have a marked impact the nation’s food supply.

Food Supply, Safety Are At Risk, Say FDA and USDA

Both the USDA and the FDA — the two principle regulatory bodies responsible for food and drug safety in the United States –  are facing severe budget cuts.

The USDA, which recently trimmed $700 million from its operating budget, will have to accommodate between $1 and $1.5 billion in further cuts. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced March 1 that if the sequester is not resolved soon, the USDA would be forced to furlough meat inspectors.

Cuts to inspector capacity may eventually force some processing facilities to slow or halt production. Meat shortages are likely to follow weeks to months later.

Furthermore, the FDA will be forced to slow or halt its ongoing work to implement 2011′s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

Farmers Fear Credit Cuts

The Farm Service Agency will have to decrease credit available to farmers by $34 to $35 million.

An estimated 1,500 farmers in need of credit will likely be denied access.

The FSA’s credit line for small, family-owned farms will be hit hardest, with a cut of $5.4 million resulting in 890 fewer loans.

SNAP Safe, But Not WIC

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly called food stamps, is exempt from sequester cuts, but the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Supplemental Nutrition Program stands to lose $692 million in funding.

WIC provides nutritional counseling, healthy food and breastfeeding support to low-income pregnant women and new mothers. The program is designed to ensure that infants and young children have the nutrition they need to develop properly in their earliest stages of life.

Under the sequester, between 575,000 and 750,000 eligible women could be denied WIC benefits.

Food banks that have recently suffered budget cuts due to Congress’s failure to pass a farm bill are bracing for another wave of reductions.

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Sarah Gordon

Sarah Gordon has been interested in food ethics since she was 15, learned about industrial slaughter, and launched into 10 years of vegetarianism. These days, she strives to be a conscientious omnivore. Now a PhD candidate in folklore, her research has caused her to spend a lot of time in the remote Canadian sub-arctic, where the lake trout (sustainably harvested) tastes amazing.

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