October 3, 2013
One troubling casualty of the federal government shutdown -- more troubling even than the blackout of the panda cam at the National Zoo -- is the suspension of the Food and Drug Administration's food safety inspection program.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety Inspection Service will continue manning every meat production facility with full-time inspectors, even as many government programs are halted. But the FDA actually oversees the safety of the vast majority of the country's food industry. And according to a memo released by the Department of Health and Human Services, the bulk of FDA food inspectors have been deemed non-essential, so will inspect few if any food facilities until Congress and the president agree on a bill to fund the federal government.
In fiscal 2011, the FDA coordinated or conducted inspections of about 20,000 food facilities for compliance with safety regulations. (The 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act actually requires U.S. inspectors to check almost 35,000 facilities a year, but funding has not been provided to meet that mandate.) The number of past inspections suggests FDA officials normally inspect about 80 facilities per business day. So, for every day the government doesn't work, approximately 80 food facilities will go without federal inspections. If the shutdown lasts until Oct. 17, 960 facilities may go without U.S. inspections.
A spokesman from the FDA contacted The Huffington Post on Wednesday to note that a portion of these inspections would be conducted by the agency's partners in state agriculture and public health departments. But he couldn't say how big a portion, or whether the FDA would continue, during the shutdown, to pay state agencies their normal fee for inspections conducted on the FDA's behalf.