The government shutdown that started Oct. 1 brought with it furloughs for all “nonessential” government employees, including almost 50 percent of the FDA’s food inspectors.
It also stopped federal funding for state inspections, meaning that about 367 food inspections that would have normally been conducted sans shutdown would be stopped every week, according to an analysis by the Huffington Post.
In the plan set forth by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the FDA will be “unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition and cosmetics activities. FDA will also have to cease safety activities such as routine establishment inspections, some compliance and enforcement activities, monitoring of imports, notification programs (e.g., food contact substances, infant formula), and the majority of the laboratory research necessary to inform public health decision-making.”
Although every meat facility continues to be monitored by full-time inspectors – since meat, poultry and eggs fall under Food Safety and Inspection Service – other foods under FDA regulation are not as lucky. For example, according to FOX News, 90 percent of imported seafood is going uninspected.
The FDA is not the only government agency that was hit by the shutdown. Barbara Reynolds, the Center for Disease Control’s director of public affairs, said in an email to NBC News that the 67 percent reduction in staff was limiting the ability of the CDC to monitor and control sickness outbreaks.
“With more than two-thirds of CDC’s staff unable to work, we will be less likely to find outbreaks, to stop them as quickly, and we will have delays in determining best strategies to prevent future outbreaks,” Reynolds said.
Although both the FDA and CDC were allowed to maintain staffing to handle emergencies, some people were still worried about the agencies’ ability to respond efficiently to harmful situations. This issue was highlighted after the CDC needed to call back 30 furloughed employees to try to control an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant salmonella that sickened over 200 people across 18 states.
“Important programs like protecting public health are going by the wayside. Our food safety is in danger,” said Connecticut Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro in a Politico article.
As the government shutdown lengthens and negotiations continue, Republicans have tried introducing “mini” bills that would provide funding for individual agencies. One of these focused on the FDA and was passed by the House on Oct. 7. However, Democrats in the Senate have so far refused to vote on the bill, favoring their goal of a blanket-bill for the budget.