WASHINGTON -- Impending across-the-board budget cuts could mean fewer government food safety inspections and higher prices for meat at the grocery store.A White House memo released late last week said that one of the consequences of the federal budget cuts, known as sequestration, would be 2,100 fewer food facility inspections by the Food and Drug Administration, "putting families at risk and costing billions in lost food production." The cuts are set to take effect March 1.Department of Agriculture inspectors could be furloughed for up to 15 days, meaning meatpacking plants would have to intermittently shut down and there could be less meat in grocery stores.The Obama administration, pressuring Congress to head off the cuts, warned that people could get sick as a result."The public could suffer more foodborne illness, such as the recent salmonella in peanut butter outbreak and the E. coli illnesses linked to organic spinach, as well as cost the food and agriculture sector millions of dollars in lost production volume," the memo read.While the USDA oversees meat safety and is required to have a constant presence at meatpacking plants, the FDA conducts infrequent inspections at manufacturing facilities for most other foods. While most food safety problems aren't found until after people get sick, a reduced number of FDA inspections would mean less vigilance overall and could have an impact on public health, advocates say.The cuts could come just as the FDA is supposed to be putting in place a new food safety law that requires more inspections of food facilities."They should be hiring and training people, not reducing the number of inspections," said Caroline Smith DeWaal of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.Meatpacking industry officials responded to the USDA furlough threat, saying it would devastate their industry. J. Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute, said in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that the furloughs could be illegal because the government is required by law to inspect meat.The Agriculture Department has an entire agency devoted to the inspections, and much of that agency's budget goes to inspector salaries.