The government shutdown furloughed 45 percent of the Food and Drug Administration’s employees, putting food safety inspections on hold.
That means 91 percent of the seafood in the U.S., which is imported, has not been inspected, according to Christian Science Monitor. Almost 50 percent of fruits and 20 percent of vegetables, also imported, are not inspected.
“An outbreak may already be happening, but without the skills of federal public health investigators, it could continue without an appropriate public health response,” Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a statement on Friday.
“FDA will be unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition, and cosmetics activities,” the Department of Health and Human Services wrote in a memo. “FDA will also have to cease safety activities such as routine establishment inspections, some compliance and enforcement activities, monitoring of imports, notification programs, and the majority of the laboratory research necessary to inform public health decision-making.”
Foods are still being checked at the state and local level, but reporting food contamination cases would be a hurdle at the federal level.
“Detection won’t be the issue," Neal Hooker, a professor of food policy at the John Glenn School of Public Affairs at Ohio State University in Columbus, told CS Monitor. “Management of, say, a product recall, and helping local public-health agencies work more effectively, those parts will be harder to do.”
The FDA is only open in an emergency capacity, its preventative services were considered non-essential.
“The FDA, in partnership with the states, inspects about 80 facilities a day, and they’re not sending people to do those routine inspections,” said DeWaal.
She warned that the absence of inspections could make U.S. food imports a target.
“People could certainly target the US for products that might not be accepted elsewhere,” she said.
Right now, The FDA is only open in an emergency capacity, its preventative services were considered non-essential. The U.S. Department of Agriculture continues to inspect meat and poultry throughout the shutdown.
The House of Representatives is expected to vote on a bill that would fund the FDA during the shutdown. These piecemeal efforts, however, have not gone over well with Democrats.