The government shutdown, the standoff over President Donald Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for a wall along the Mexican border, is now going past its third week with important government workers not being paid and things are getting a little scary. It’s not just scary for those who are trying to pay their bills, make ends meet and provide for their families, it’s also scary from a health standpoint.
Some portions of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are apart of the partial government shut down.
About 800,000 workers at roughly a quarter of U.S. government agencies and some of the FDA’s inspectors working without pay. Until Congress passes the funding bills needed to reopen those agencies, the FDA will “focus our resources on areas of highest potential risk to consumers,” Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, said Thursday via Twitter.
Those high-risk areas include plants that produce both fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and seafood, Gottlieb said — about a third of the facilities that the FDA regularly inspects. A plant’s manufacturing processes and regulatory record will also be taken into account when the FDA decides what to inspect, he said.
But others aren’t so sure that the FDA can really handle food safety during this time of limited resources.
“We are very concerned that the shutdown may lead to lapses in food safety, but we don’t know where or when these will happen,” said Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs at the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group.
On Tuesday, the US Food and Drug Administration resumed some food safety inspections that had stopped since the government shutdown began on December 22. Inspectors who are back on the job are doing so without pay.
When asked what foods he won’t eat during the shutdown, food safety attorney Bill Marler said, “I would say anything you aren’t controlling yourself, so any fresh, uncooked products on the market place,” such as ready-to-eat salads and prepackaged sandwiches, or meals that aren’t cooked.
(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
His list includes: “Sprouts, leafy greens, ready to eat products like cheese, ice cream. I would be especially suspect if you’re a pregnant woman, children, people with a compromised immune system. I would stay away from it completely.”
But get this: He even goes on to say that even when there isn’t a government shutdown, the FDA doesn’t have enough inspectors, noting that 80% of the food that falls under the jurisdiction of the FDA is inspected.
“While the FDA claims that it will continue to conduct ‘for cause’ inspectionsand pursue criminal and civil investigations related to ‘imminent threats to human health or life,’ the agency has posted no new warning letters since the shutdown began more than two weeks ago,” the Center for Science in the Public Interest said in a written statement this week. “That raises concerns that enforcement activities effectively may have stopped.”One thing is for sure. Holding the government–hardworking taxpayers–for ransom to get a wall built doesn’t seem like the greatest use of power from the highest office in the world. Many workers and families alike would argue that there needs to be some resolution, some common ground, and it needs to happen now.