Routine FDA Inspections Are on Hold Due to the Government Shutdown
If you don’t work for the federal government — and keep in mind, hundreds of thousands of people do — it might be easy to look at the current shutdown and wonder, Why should I care? Those National Parks have been there for millions of years. They ain’t going nowhere! But as many people continue to realize, some federal agencies touch our lives in ways that are so commonplace, we often overlook them. Many issues are admittedly not that urgent: Reduced staff at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau could prevent the release of new beers — an annoyance, but not life or death. Others are more serious, like the recognition that low-income families could potentially miss their SNAP benefits — something the Department of Agriculture has been working on to make sure people can eat.
But meanwhile, in other ways, the shutdown can potentially affect every single American. As The Washington Post reports, the furloughing of hundreds of FDA inspectors means that routine inspections won’t be happening at domestic food-processing facilities. Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said he’s working to address this issue, hoping to put the inspectors back to work by next week, especially for foods like seafood that are known as high risk. But for now, those plans are just hypotheticals. “We are doing what we can to mitigate any risk to consumers through the shutdown,” he was quoted as saying.
Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, had a different take, though. “[The current shutdown] puts our food supply at risk,” she told The Post. “Regular inspections, which help stop foodborne illness before people get sick, are vital.”
Importantly, Gottlieb says that inspections are still taking place on foreign goods and producers, and any news of an outbreak will immediately be dealt with. And The Post reports that the USDA also carries out inspections on items like meat and eggs, and those visits have not stopped. Still, the approximately 160 weekly routine inspections conducted by the FDA currently aren’t taking place, meaning a standard preventive measure against foodborne illness is absent until further notice.