DES MOINES — Bootleg meat and black-market eggs could become a reality if automatic federal budget cuts take hold, according to a veteran meat inspector with 22 years on the job.
That’s not hyperbole, said Trent Berhow, a union meat inspector who lives in Kiron, Iowa.
“You take an inspector off the floor, that plant shuts down,” Berhow said. “But if there’s still demand for it — like when we had Prohibition — then you could have bootleg meat, poultry and egg products.”
Berhow hypothesized about the under-the-counter chickens during a conference call that was put together by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 61 on the potential effects of the federal budget cuts known as sequestration that take effect over the next several years.
Some of those cuts take effect sooner, such as budget cuts that U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said this month would force him into furloughing federal inspectors for 11 days beginning this summer. He estimated that would have an $8 billion impact on U.S. agriculture exports.
Berhow said he has seen predictions from the American Meat Institute
of 15-day furloughs and a $10 billion impact.
“It will be disastrous,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, among others in Congress, has been skeptical of how the USDA is handling the cuts.
“Obviously, Senator Grassley believes that meat inspectors fall into the category of life, safety or health, thus they should not be furloughed,” Grassley spokeswoman Beth Levine said.
Also on the call were Terry Lowman who runs a restaurant in Ames, retired Cedar Rapids teacher Kathy Ulrich and Roger Pavey, executive director of Community Action of Eastern Iowa.
Ulrich, the retired teacher, said the cuts are going to cut into preparation time for teachers because there will be fewer federally funded positions, such as classroom associates, to help cover class time.