Hundreds of Food and Drug Administration inspectors have been furloughed by the partial government shutdown, and that has sharply reduced the number of inspections of the nation’s food supply, putting food safety at risk.
The FDA oversees 80 percent of the food supply, but all routine inspections of domestic food-processing have been suspended, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told The Washington Post.
He hopes to bring some inspectors back next week to resume inspections of facilities that are considered high risk. This includes facilities that handle soft cheeses or seafood, or other foods known to have a history of problems:
“We are doing what we can to mitigate any risk to consumers through the shutdown,” Gottlieb said.
But these reductions are unacceptable, said one official at the Center for Science In The Public Interest, a non-profit advocacy group:
“That puts our food supply at risk,” said Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs at the organization. “Regular inspections, which help stop foodborne illness before people get sick, are vital.”
And as the Post notes, foodborne illnesses are a huge problem in the U.S., affecting 48 million people yearly, and killing 3,000, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The FDA typically conducts about 160 routine inspections each week, The Hill reports. Investigators usually check for insect infestations, unclean conditions, and contaminated foods. The agency is reportedly continuing inspections of foreign manufacturers and producers involved in recalls or outbreaks.
Congress covers 40 percent of the agency’s operations, while 60 percent is funded by user fees.
Although Wednesday is day 19 of the shutdown, negotiations between the White House are still going nowhere fast while President Donald Trump continues to demand $5 billion for his proposed border wall.
Trump continues to claim the wall is crucial to stemming a crisis at the border — a crisis that many Democrats say is non-existent. Democrats say Trump is playing politics and trying to shore up support from his base. They have offered up $1.3 billion in additional border security measures, but haven’t offered funds for the wall.
It’s not just food safety that’s affected by this shutdown. Hundreds of federal housing contracts have expired, putting some people at risk of eviction and forcing their landlords to use private funding for upkeep and repairs. Transportation Security Administration employees are quitting or calling in sick, and federal workers are suing due to financial problems caused by the shutdown.
The New York Times reports 800,000 federal employees will not receive paychecks this week, and thousands of others are being forced to work without pay.
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