FDA and CDC hit by government shutdown

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: FDA Flickr/Michael J. Ermarth
Photo: FDA Flickr/Michael J. Ermarth

Related tags Government shutdown Food safety Fda

FDA and CDC are among US agencies affected after Congress and the White House could not agree on a new budget.

The government is shutdown as funding for some federal agencies has run out.

Temporary funding bills have been in place since the fiscal year began in October. The Senate will vote to end the shutdown later today (Monday).

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are branches of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Impacted FDA and CDC services

HHS said contingency plans would lead to furloughing (a forced leave of absence) half of its 80,000 staff.

The notice says FDA will be unable to support the majority of its food safety and nutrition activities. 

It will have to cease routine inspections, some compliance and enforcement activities, monitoring of imports, notification programs and the majority of the lab research necessary to inform public health decision-making.

Activities that will continue include monitoring for and responding to outbreaks related to foodborne illness, supporting high-risk food recalls when products endanger consumers, pursuing criminal and certain civil investigations when public health is at risk and screening food products imported to the US to protect consumers from harmful products.

CDC will have a ‘significantly reduced’ capacity to respond to outbreak investigations, processing of laboratory samples and maintaining its 24/7 emergency operations center.

Limits on staff resources would result in more time to review, analyze and report public health information.

Inspectors from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service will continue working.

“USDA is committed to safeguarding life and property through the critical services we provide – and should the government shut down, we will continue to do just that,” ​said Sonny Perdue, agriculture secretary.

Shutdown has ‘real consequences’

Jaydee Hanson, senior policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, called on the Trump Administration to bring all food safety personnel to work.

“The FDA oversees roughly 80% of the country’s food supply,” ​she said before the shutdown came into effect.

“In the last big government shutdown (2013), FDA told more than half of its inspectors to stay home. Already, FDA lacks enough inspectors to monitor all of the produce that the US produces and imports. Cutting inspectors would mean that they would not do plant inspections, which are already too infrequent, during this period.

“Cutting CDC staff means staff will miss early indications of the next E. coli, Salmonella, or Listeria outbreaks. People might actually die for lack of government action warning them of contaminated food.”

A government shutdown five years ago​ was estimated to have cost the federal government billions of dollars, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

Scott Slesinger, legislative director at Natural Resources Defense Council, said the 2013 shutdown lasted 16 days and had ‘real consequences’.

“Those whose jobs were to protect the public from foodborne illness were off the clock during a Salmonella outbreak that sickened at least 300 people.

“Given Republican control of Congress and the White House, they have a responsibility to keep the government running.”

Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), said as seen in 2013, there are ‘very real impacts’ due to a government shutdown.

“Safety protections won’t be enforced and scientific studies will lapse, or cease entirely, causing months of disruption to federal agencies - agencies that, today, are already understaffed or led by underqualified presidential appointees,” ​he said.

“It is also just deeply disappointing that Congress has had months to fund the government. One party controls both the House and Senate, but nevertheless Congress seems unable to accomplish this core task.  

“Due to the dysfunction in D.C., all we’ve seen are interim funding measures that kick the can down the road. It is way past time for Congress to consistently and fully fund the government.”

Related topics Food safety & quality

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