The U.S. government shut down for the first time in 17 years after Congress failed to reach an agreement to fund federal agencies. The impasse means more than 800,000 federal workers were furloughed on Tuesday.
Each federal department has different staffers who will remain on the job. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has people whose jobs directly relate to safety who are considered essential. Other people, paid through permit fees in areas already hit by sequestration furloughs, will remain on the job for now.
USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service's in-plant inspectors are unaffected by the budget-induced shutdown, keeping the meatpacking industry operating. Meat grading, which determines the quality grades for lamb, is a voluntary service that is continuing because the industry pays the fees associated with it.
Grain inspectors will continue to work as their budgets are also funded by user fees.
However, a host of other USDA functions, including all the USDA websites, will not be available until government offices reopen.
Daily transactions between livestock producers, as well as purchases of meat products, are contained in USDA market reports, which are not currently available during the shutdown. The lack of market reports will likely affect the ability of the sheep industry to offer Livestock Risk Protection-Lamb insurance next week. The now one-page USDA website indicated that statistical reports widely followed in the industry would not likely return immediately after the shutdown ends.
The American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) is closely tracking the lack of market reporting as an area of major concern. Companies are still submitting mandatory price reports but that information is not publicly available during the shutdown.
ASI Executive Director Peter Orwick remarked, "This is entirely new territory with no mandatory or voluntary reports available to the industry. Several years ago, we had a couple of weeks with no mandatory reports, but at least the information from the voluntary side of market news reporting was available."
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service continues to provide fee for services that are directly related to animal health protection including issuance of export certificates for animal products.
Many congressional hearings were also postponed, including the hearings in Sacramento, Calif., and Albuquerque, N.M., on the proposed rules to remove the gray wolf from the list of threatened and endangered species.