A U.S. government shutdown could create enormous challenges for the poultry industry if federal inspectors are not deemed "essential" employees, according to Mike Brown, president of the National Chicken Council.

"The economic havoc and the impact on jobs would be enormous if federal inspectors are not deemed to be essential," said Brown. "Should the government shut down, we will still need access to these inspectors in our plants." According to Brown, a temporary shutdown of inspector services could lead to an inability to process product transports to plants, ship products to supermarkets or consumers, or gain approval to move products that come into ports. In a joint letter with Brown to the members of Congress, National Turkey Federation President Joel Brandenberger reiterated the inspectors' importance to the industry.

If Congress can't put together an appropriations bill or a further continuing resolution for the 2011 fiscal year by 12:01 a.m. EST on April 9, federal departments and agencies will be forced to execute contingency plans for a government shutdown, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. If that happens, various government agencies will have to decide who among their employees is essential, or "excepted" — usually, those who perform emergency work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property, or perform minimal activities as necessary to execute an orderly suspension of agency operations — and who must be furloughed. 

As of the morning of April 7, government talks were still taking place in an attempt to resolve the budget and prevent a shutdown.