BOSTON - As we reach day 19 of the Trump Administration's partial government shutdown, more than 400,000 federal employees are being forced to work without pay.
For the FDA, the furloughing of hundreds of inspectors means reduced inspections, which could potentially be putting the population at risk.
As inspections of the nation's food supply decrease, the risk for foodborne illnesses increases, especially for foods inspected at high risk facilities, such as soft cheese or seafood.
Every year, foodborne illnesses sicken approximately 48 million people and kill 3,000 nationwide, according to the CDC.
Not only is the shutdown's effect on the FDA's operations detrimental to the safety of Americans, but is also impacting other federal services. TSA workers are reportedly calling out sick during the shutdown to avoid working without getting paid.
THREAD: Food Safety During Shutdown: We’re taking steps to expand the scope of food safety surveillance inspections we’re doing during the shutdown to make sure we continue inspecting high risk food facilities. 31% of our inventory of domestic inspections are considered high risk— Scott Gottlieb, M.D. (@SGottliebFDA) January 9, 2019
Much of what the federal government does is ensuring the safety of the population across the country, such as making sure food is safe to eat, air traffic is managed properly and terrorist and cyber terrorist attacks are prevented.
But, when the government is shutdown and federal workers aren't getting their paychecks, there is sufficient reason to worry as agencies have to mitigate the effects financial shortfalls and reduce some of their 24/7 operations. The question, however, is how to decide what to cut down on while still complying with federal mandates, an issue that doesn't just involve workers but also functions critical to the overall operations.
“We are doing what we can to mitigate any risk to consumers through the shutdown,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in an interview to the Washington Post.
Gottlieb said in a tweet on Wednesday they are still doing all of their regular foreign food inspections, but on the domestic side, about 160 domestic food inspections are conducted each week, and about 1/3, or 31 percent, of those are considered high risk.
"We assess risk based on an overall, cross-cutting risk profile," Gottlieb said. "The primary factors contributing to a facility’s risk profile include: the type of food, the manufacturing process, and the compliance history of the facility."
We have lots of questions from media about hiring during this lapse in appropriations. We've had to hold off on unfunded recruitment efforts. All our staff is critical. We look forward to bringing additional new scientific and professional staff into FDA once funding is restored— Scott Gottlieb, M.D. (@SGottliebFDA) January 7, 2019
A non-profit advocacy group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, called the current situation regarding reduced FDA inspections unacceptable.
“That puts our food supply at risk,” Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs at the group told the Washington Post. “Regular inspections, which help stop foodborne illness before people get sick, are vital.”
While most federal agencies forbid their personnel from speak publicly about the shutdown's impact on their personal lives, some families of those workers are speaking out about the insecurities they are facing amid the shutdown.
Deep into its third week, the shutdown is preventing many of those families, who, in large part don't have a fallback plan, from paying bills and feeding their families.
The partial government shutdown that began Dec. 22 continues as a stalemate between President Donald Trump and congressional leaders over his demand for $5 billion to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
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