The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which oversees 80 percent of the United States food supply, has suspended all routine inspections due to the partial government shutdown, The Washington Post reports.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told the outlet that the agency has stopped all routine inspections of food-processing facilities but said he is working on a plan to bring inspectors back as early as next week to inspect “high-risk” facilities that handle items like seafood, soft cheese, and vegetables.
“We are doing what we can to mitigate any risk to consumers through the shutdown,” Gottlieb said.
The FDA conducts an average of 160 routine food inspections each week, roughly a third of which are “high-risk,” Gottlieb said.
Gottlieb said the agency has already canceled about 50 high-risk inspections but said he is seeking authority to bring 150 furloughed inspectors back to look at these facilities.
About 60 percent of the FDA’s funding comes from user fees, which have allowed the FDA to continue to inspect drugs and medical devices. But 40 percent, including funding for the food-relate inspections, are paid for by taxpayers.
“The agency is continuing to inspect foreign manufacturers, imports and domestic producers involved in recalls or outbreaks, and places where inspectors suspect there may be a problem,” The Post reported. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture operates in parallel with the FDA, inspecting meat, poultry and egg products, and those inspections have continued, according to a shutdown plan forwarded by a USDA representative.”
Trump’s wall demand puts food safety at risk:
More than 48 million people are sickened by foodborne illnesses each year and 3,000 die annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit advocacy group, said the FDA’s response has been unacceptable.
“That puts our food supply at risk,” Sarah Sorscher, the group’s deputy director of regulatory affairs, told The Post. “Regular inspections, which help stop foodborne illness before people get sick, are vital.”
“You can’t shut down the United States government at this magnitude and expect that everything’s going to be hunky-dory,” added Bruce McIndoe, founder and president of the risk management firm WorldAware. “You’re going to see a much higher risk of a failure in the system.”
Trump team didn’t realize extent of shutdown:
The Washington Post reported over the weekend that the Trump administration “recognized only this week the breadth of the potential impact” and was now focused on “understanding the scope of the consequences and determining whether there is anything they can do to intervene.”