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Food safety impacted by US government shutdown

By Joe Whitworth+

01-Oct-2013
Last updated on 01-Oct-2013 at 12:35 GMT

FDA, CDC, USDA feel government shutdown impact
FDA, CDC, USDA feel government shutdown impact

Almost half of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) employees have been furloughed after the federal government failed to agree a budget deal by the midnight deadline.

FDA will see 45% of its 14,779 staff furloughed while 68% of 12,825 employees will be affected at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A furlough is temporary unpaid leave of employees because of special needs of a company due to economic conditions at the organization or in the general economy.

FDA would continue activities including maintaining critical consumer protection to handle emergencies, high-risk recalls, civil and criminal investigations, import entry review, and other critical public health issues.

However, the agency will be unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition, and cosmetics activities, according to the Department of Health and Human Services contingency plan .

CDC will be unable to support outbreak detection and infectious disease surveillance.

The US government last underwent a shutdown in 1995-96 with services suspended for 21 days.

Affected FDA services

FDA will also cease safety activities such as routine establishment inspections, some compliance and enforcement, monitoring of imports, notification programs (food contact substances, infant formula), and the majority of laboratory research necessary to inform public health decision-making.

698 FDA staff who would be excepted include 578 to inspect regulated products and manufacturers, conduct sample analysis on products and review imports offered for entry into the US.

This includes investigators who will be needed to perform inspections, recall operations, emergency response, review import entries and make admissibility decisions.

The remaining 120 staff would be conducting and overseeing adverse event reporting and lot release protocol reviews and providing support with surveillance, product incidents, compliance, recalls, and emergencies.

CDC impact  

CDC will continue minimal support to protect the health and well-being of US citizens through a reduced capacity to respond to outbreak investigations, processing of laboratory samples, and maintaining the agency’s emergency operations center

CDC would be unable to support outbreak detection and linking across state boundaries using genetic and molecular analysis, updating of disease treatment and prevention recommendations and technical assistance, analysis, and support to partners for infectious disease surveillance.

USDA interrupted

USDA will continue inspection of meat, poultry, and egg products but will be furloughing more than 1,200 employees in other parts of the Food Safety and Inspection Service.  

A message on the US Department of Agriculture’s website this morning reads: “Due to the lapse in federal government funding, this website is not available. We sincerely regret this inconvenience.

“After funding has been restored, please allow some time for this website to become available again.”

Caroline Smith DeWaal, CSPI food safety director, said that basic food safety functions will be in place but the shutdown will have an impact.

“Despite the agencies’ planning, a government shutdown will make it easier for contaminated food to slip through to consumers and will make it harder for the federal government to identify and respond to outbreaks.”  

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