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10 ways to prepare for a meat shortage

Inspection could be slowed or temporarily halted if the government sequester takes effect. These tactics will minimize the impact on your food bill.

By Donna_Freedman Feb 22, 2013 11:54AM

Logo: Close up of steak and salad (Image Studios, UpperCut Images, Getty Images)Reports of possible furloughs for all U.S. meat inspectors have meatpackers and processors very, very nervous. This MSN Money article quotes Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack as saying that while temporary layoffs would be "the least desirable option," the law does not include exceptions for members of the Food Safety and Inspection Service.

The U.S. government sequester means automatic spending cuts as of March 1, unless Congress finds a way around it. Vilsack has previously mentioned furloughing meat inspectors for up to 15 days.

That could lead to shortages of certain products and/or higher prices, according to the American Meat Institute, which estimates that the nation has an eight-day supply of meat and poultry products in cold storage at any given time.

This does not necessarily translate to widespread shortages of animal protein. What's more likely is that "something you particularly care for may not be as available," says Tom Dopp, the AMI's senior vice president of regulatory affairs.

If that product is one your household uses lots of, that could mean groceries will take an even bigger bite of your monthly budget.
Dopp doubts the USDA will idle all its meat inspectors simultaneously, since federal law prohibits meat and poultry products to be transported or sold without inspection. Instead, he believes it will be something akin to the one-day-a-week furloughs predicted for civilian workers at the Department of Defense (as reported by The Washington Post).


Again: No one is forecasting a total absence of animal protein. But why not be prepared? You can take a few steps to reduce the possible impact without significantly affecting your current grocery budget.

Preparation and experimentation

1. Buy a little more, starting now.
Ground beef on sale this week? Buy one of those "value packs" and wrap it in smaller portions for the freezer. (Hint: Brown some of it first -- it'll take up less room that way and also be ready for quick meals like chili or sloppy joes.)

Food budget too tight to allow many additional purchases? There's a way around that, namely . . .

2. Shopping the "manager's special" bin.
Meat or poultry gets reduced by up to 50% as it nears its sell-by date. Use or freeze it promptly and it'll be fine.

3. Look elsewhere for animal protein.
Suppose the meat case does look a little thin with regard to affordable fresh protein? Head to the deli department for smoked sausages or the grocery aisle for canned meats, poultry and fish, then search for recipes using these items. A single can of poultry will become chicken or turkey enchiladas, and plenty of kids would be delighted to hear that dinner will be franks and beans. Speaking of looking elsewhere . . .

4. Pursue your dinner. Ice fishing shanties appear on U.S. lakes every winter, and in some states you can drop a line in the water all year. (For example, Arizona has a thriving urban fishery.) Rabbits and squirrels are fair game (so to speak) at any time in some places. (Plenty of pioneers fed themselves this way. So did more recent generations: My dad ate a lot of rabbit while growing up.)

This tip doesn't apply to everyone, obviously. But maybe your neighbor is an avid ice fisherman -- next time he offers you a few perch, why not take him up on it?

Change the way you use it

5. Serve reasonable portions.
Meat doesn't have to be the star of every meal. Often we hear that 3 ounces of meat -- about the size of a deck of playing cards -- is the ideal serving size. Maybe your hollow-legged teen doesn't agree, but you're the one footing the grocery bill. Provide enough healthy side dishes and he'll manage to fill himself up. (Hint: A skillet of cornbread or a pan of biscuits are easy ways to help turn a stew or chili dinner into an occasion.)

6. Seek recipes that use less meat.
Spaghetti and meatballs instead of slabs of meat loaf. Stir-fries, stews, chili, soups and casseroles. Thin slices of roast chicken or grilled flank steak along with a protein like quinoa or beans and two vegetables instead of one. Search online for recipes. You could find you like eating this way.

8. Have breakfast for dinner.
A supper of pancakes (maybe with a side of that smoked sausage, thinly sliced and skillet-browned) or of scrambled eggs and fried potatoes (hint: bake a few extra spuds for dinner the night before) is satisfying and easy to prepare. Or buy a loaf of day-old French bread from the markdown shelf at the in-store bakery and turn it into French toast (which is as good with cinnamon and sugar or a bit of jam as it is with syrup).

9. Go meatless more often.
The "Meatless Monday" meme is popular on personal finance and money-saving blogs. Once you've found some intriguing recipes, why not go meatless several days a week? A large part of the world's population survives quite nicely with little to no animal protein in its diets. Or you could . . .

10. Ditch meat altogether.
Been flirting with vegetarianism? Maybe it's time to commit.

Worst-case scenario: There is a disruption in supply of/increase in price for the ground beef or chicken drumsticks you like to cook. But you'll have a plan B in place.

Best-case scenario: Nothing changes, and you'll have extra food stored plus a bunch of new recipes to try.

More on MSN Money:

Feb 22, 2013 1:03PM
Let the run on the meat departments and the panic buying begin. Thanks MSN.
Feb 24, 2013 12:44PM
Prices have already created a meat shortage in way too many homes. Sad part is the USDA/FDA will cut hours, jobs, people and costs from the bottom up, with the bureaucrats who make the most and do the least immune from belt tightening. Then all will blame the "other" party for everything. Best fix for the country is to do away with the 2 party system and elect independent representatives who work for the people instead of the party.
Feb 23, 2013 5:06PM
this is such a crock. the 'sequestor' involves $85 billion over the year. $85 billion is 2% of the budget.


over a year


Feb 22, 2013 2:19PM

The sequester will cut into future spending, not current spending.



If Obamas says it, it's a lie.

Feb 26, 2013 11:32AM

Take a drive to the country,visit a local butcher,buy a whole hog, and put it in the freezer.It will be locally grown and better meat than you could buy in the grocery store anyway.

Feb 23, 2013 2:38PM
I'll just go to my freezer.  We will be good for at least 6 months.
Feb 22, 2013 5:07PM
I have cutback on meat consumption to 1 day for a 2 week period and I feel better and digestion   output is healthier plus consistant. I don't miss it at all, besides, it is getting more expensive.
Sounds like the government needs to figure out how to save money with out gouging the eyes out of every american. the proposed cut at TSA / our ways of moving about the country,shiping. The food supply. It is starting to look like the government wants the most suffering to impact the most people. That's good government?
Feb 22, 2013 2:05PM
Take a deer ........... Obama's sequester will most likely get the game wardens too.
Feb 25, 2013 12:40PM
I had cut on portions and 2 days a  weeks No meat ,hate to waste food , add more vegetablesand fruits to my diet.
Feb 24, 2013 1:46PM
I have an idea!  Stop eating meat and grow your own veggies!  Best way to prepare for a FOOD shortage of any kind and bet you'll lower your cholesterol in the process. :)

Feb 22, 2013 3:36PM

Holy E-Coli Batman. Does this mean my horse meat won't be totally safe anymore?

Feb 27, 2013 12:31AM
Demand for big game permits have exploded since all this hype about meat shortages started. 
Feb 22, 2013 3:37PM
The only newsworthy thing is,  the only thing we can agree on is to disagree
Mar 2, 2013 2:50AM
Yeah.  Not as much help for someone on a low-carb diet, one on which I've actually been losing weight.  An outcome that all those starches would quickly reverse.
Mar 1, 2013 9:14AM
Get your facts right, MSN.  A portion of meat "the size of a deck of cards" is five ounces, not three - so your recommended serving portion actually equals approximately HALF of a deck of cards.
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.