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homeThursday 21st March 2019

US food safety at risk from government shutdown

Katie Coyne10/01/2019 - 14:00

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FDA inspects 80% of US food
FDA inspects 80% of US food

Food safety inspections in the US have been cut because of the government shutdown, which is now in its third week. At the time of writing the closure was on the cusp of being the longest in US history.

President Donald Trump has shut down sections of the US government to force negotiations in his favour so that he would be provided with funding to build a border wall between the US and Mexico.

Part of the government affected by the shutdown is the Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for regulating foods, tobacco and medical products.

Some 7,000 staff out of 17,000 are not working and are not being paid.

FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CNN: ‘There is no question this has an impact, and it is not business as usual... There is a very concerted effort to stand up critical functions and to focus on our consumer protection mission, in many cases relying on excepted employees not being paid.

‘Wherever we can, we will look at the safety mission first and foremost, but you know what will happen is that more of the routine work and more of the day-to-day review work will slow down… A lot of it slowed down already.’

Gottlieb has said that although the shutdown started just before Christmas the administration wouldn’t have conducted inspections during the two weeks’ holiday so the impact is only starting to be felt this week.

Gottlieb said regular foreign food inspections were continuing but that it would only be carrying out routine domestic inspections of high-risk food facilities, which is around a third of the 160 inspections it usually carries out each week.

However, he also tweeted that no inspections had been scheduled or carried out this week. Every year the FDA carries out around 8,400 inspections.

Gottlieb is also trying to bring some workers back without pay. The FDA wants to allow food inspection staff – who are often on low salaries, and pay for travel out of their own pockets and later reimbursed – that are working without pay to use government credit cards to cover their expenses.

The US recently had an outbreak of E coli linked to romaine lettuce, which made 62 people ill and caused 25 to spend time in hospital.

While the US Centre for Disease Control yesterday said the outbreak ‘appears to be over’, the ongoing investigation into the source is the FDA’s responsibility and there are fears over how the administration would cope with a new food safety emergency.

US media have reported FDA workers’ fears that the shutdown does pose a risk to public safety. 

CNN reported Geneve Parks, a furloughed FDA chemist, saying: ‘With the shutdown, surveillance is not effective. They are doing the bare minimum to get by… When you don’t have enough funding, then it becomes a life-or-death situation. It’s scary.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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