Furloughing federal poultry inspectors could have consequences that go way beyond the financial stability of processors and others in the industry, according to Joe Sanderson Jr., CEO of Sanderson Farms. Sanderson said a lack of inspectors would create an animal welfare issue and an environmental catastrophe.

“Without proper notice, that would be a terrible situation for us,” Sanderson said during a quarterly call with shareholders on February 21. “When you have birds that are 60 to 62 days old, scheduled to go to the plant, and all of the sudden you don’t have inspectors, and you leave those birds in the house 2 to 5 days longer, they crowd up, and they’re going to die. That’s your animal welfare issue.” 

It becomes an environmental issue, he said, because producers and processors will then have decisions to make about how to get rid of the dead birds. There is also a concern of where the chicks coming out of the hatcheries are going to go, and will eggs have to be destroyed. “Are there enough landfills for all of that?" said Sanderson. "I don’t think they’ve thought about that in Washington." 

The furloughing of inspectors is still a possibility until Congress and the White House come to an agreement to avoid sequestration. Without inspectors, processing plants cannot legally produce meat.  Sanderson said on previous occasions when there was a government crisis or even shutdown, inspectors were still deemed essential and plants could still operate. He expressed optimism that even if sequestration occurs, poultry plants can continue to operate with the benefit of on-site federal inspectors.  “We’re supposed to have our best and brightest there in Washington," he said. "They’ve been able to work these things out. I’m hopeful they’ll be able to get that done.”