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Daily News Blog

25
Jan

Government Shutdown Puts Food Safety at Risk

(Beyond Pesticides, January 25, 2019) The partial government shutdown–now in its second month–is disrupting federal oversight of food safety for various pathogens and pesticides. Labs are shuttered, many government agency employees are furloughed, and those still working are doing so without pay. The ongoing obstruction to government assessment of the food supply puts U.S. consumers at risk.

Workers from the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) have expressed concerns about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) AMS Pesticide Data Program. This program samples, tests, and reports about pesticide residues in U.S. agricultural commodities, with a focus on chemicals that could cause problems for infants and children. Peter Kyriacopoulos, senior director of public policy at APHL, stated that only one of the ten public health laboratories is planning on continuing testing samples during the shutdown without compensation.

Additionally, APHA has reported issues regarding DNA analysis of food samples involved in foodborne outbreaks. DNA samples from sick patients are used to trace back the source of outbreaks and lead to assessment of food production facilities. While outbreak investigations are headed by the currently fully-operational Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), interdepartmental research involving the USDA and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is delayed due to furloughed employees and lack of funding for laboratories.

A December news release from USDA outlined the list of inspection functions during the lapse of funding beginning January 1, 2019 to include: Meat, poultry, and processed egg inspection services, grain and other commodity inspections, as well as import/export inspections for pests.

A briefing held by the House Congressional Food Safety Caucus on Wednesday, January 16 named alarming realities of the impact of the shutdown. According to U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), only about a third of FDA’s regular 160 weekly inspections are being carried out. 200 of the total 550 food investigators are tasked with working during the shutdown. They are doing so without pay, and are using personal funds for travel expenses. Overall, FDA has furloughed 41% of its workforce (~17,000 employees). Ninety percent of the USDA’s 9,500 Food Safety and Inspection Service employees are working without pay. Thomas Gremillion of the Consumer Federation of America stated, “Businesses know there aren’t any unannounced inspections happening now. The incentive structure is being eroded.”

FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD tweeted on January 22nd: “We’ve received multiple inquiries about which critical food operations continue during the shutdown. Examples of the work that we’re still doing include: 1) High-risk domestic food surveillance inspections; 2) foodborne illness surveillance and outbreak investigations; 3) Execution of high-risk food recalls; 4) Inspection of foreign food facilities; and 5) Sampling of imported food samples (including sampling for antibiotic residue contamination and decomposition analysis). These are among critical activities ongoing by dedicated, unpaid staff.”

The complicated, intertwined effects of the government shutdown are deeply concerning. The long-term consequences to the lack of oversight to food safety are yet unknown, and there does not seem to be a quick end to the shutdown within sight. NBC News reported on January 23 that the Trump administration has asked for a list of programs that could be affected if the shutdown continues for additional weeks, signaling preparation for an ongoing stalemate until, perhaps, March.

If you are concerned about what kinds of pesticides could be in your food, especially with lack of regulation, you can utilize Beyond Pesticides’ Eating with a Conscience database. The organization evaluates the impact of toxic chemicals allowed for use on individual fruits and vegetables grown domestically and internationally.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Sources: Food Safety News, Reuters, Contagion Live, NBC News

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  • Archives

  • Categories

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    • Biological Control (15)
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