Budget cuts could threaten U.S. poultry production

(CBS News) LOS ANGELES - One week from today, March 1, is the date that automatic, across-the-board spending cuts will kick in, unless Congress and the president reach a budget deal. The cuts were designed to be so deep and harmful that the president and Congress would have to find a better way, but there is no sign of that. Essential government services will be cut back and one of the many industries that could feel the effects is food safety.

George Saffarrans owns a poultry plant near downtown Los Angeles
CBS News

George Saffarrans's poultry plant near downtown Los Angeles processes 30,000 to 40,000 chickens each day.

Nearly every day, inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture come by to look at paperwork and receiving logs and to check on sanitation.

But officials at the Agriculture Department estimate the automatic budget cuts would slash $2 billion from their budget and force them to furlough a third of their workers. That includes all food inspectors.

Saffarrans fears that a lack of inspectors means he will not be able to do anything with his chicken. "I can't open the box. I can't repack it. I can't cut it. I can't trim it. I can't marinate it, I can't do anything to it." he said. Without inspectors, the business will shut down.

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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack sent a letter to the Senate warning of a "nationwide shutdown of meat and poultry plants," costing businesses $10 billion and employees $400 million in lost wages.

The Obama Administration predicts consumers could find shortages, and higher prices, at grocery stores.

"I hope it doesn't happen," said Saffarrans. "It would be an economic disaster and there would be no winners. The Democrats wouldn't be winners, the Republicans wouldn't be winners, and Obama certainly wouldn't be a winner."

Among the losers would also be Saffarrans's 140 employees. He says he would be forced to lay them off.