As reported in FoodQualityNews.com, the US Congress failed to overcome a budget impasse, leaving a significant funding shortfall. Among the hardest hit departments is the US Food and Drug Administration, which has seen a full 45% of its staff furloughed until further notice.
The FDA (already stretched thin) has been further crippled by nearly half of its workforce on unpaid leave. While the agency plans to maintain “critical” activities (high-risk recalls, civil/criminal investigations, import entry review among them), it will not have the resources to support the majority of its food safety activities, routine inspections, import monitoring and other functions.
Questions remain among food professionals as to what the measurable short- and long-term effects will be on the industry. According to Jeffrey T. Barach, principal of food industry consultancy Barach Enterprises LLC, told FoodProductionDaily.com he thinks the initial impact likely will be minimal.
“The FDA’s mission is mainly inspection,” he said. “They often don’t get into a food processing plant very often (about every one to two years) unless there is a problem.”
Barach added that because only a small fraction of food imported into the US actually passes under inspectors’ eyes (about 1% to 2%), the impact is small there, too.
However, Barach pointed out, the shorthanded FDA could be put to the test in the event of a major recall event.
“If FDA is limited and a major recall happens, it could cause a slow initial reaction to the problem and a slow recovery,” he said. “This could cause unnecessary problems for food processors, retailers and also for consumers.”
In the first 18 hours after the shutdown occurred, a few visible results have surfaced. The FDA has cancelled a Wednesday briefing on the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), and the FDA has posted notices via social media and automated employee email responses indicating the shutdown is impairing the agency's ability to respond.
Bill Soest, representative for decontamination products systems provider ClorDiSys, told FoodProductionDaily.com that he thinks the high standards most food operations work under means the FDA shutdown will have little effect on the industry.
“Quality food processing happens because the companies want to produce good food, not because of government inspecting,” he said.