January 10, 2019 – The partial shutdown of the federal government hampers the FDA's ability to ensure the safety of US foods, forcing the agency to move inspections to products it considers high risk.
The nearly three-week shutdown left 800,000 workers in about a quarter of US government agencies and let some FDA inspectors work without pay. Until Congress passes the necessary funding legislation to reopen these agencies, the FDA "will focus its resources on the areas of greatest risk to consumers," said Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, via Twitter.
These high-risk areas include factories that produce fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and seafood, Gottlieb said – about one-third of the facilities the FDA inspects regularly. The manufacturing processes and regulatory registration of the plant will also be taken into account when the FDA decides what to inspect, he said.
"The FDA's professional staff remains fully committed to our mission," Gottlieb said in a previous tweet. "We are taking all possible steps to help our colleagues to fulfill their commitments to the American people in difficult conditions."
About 40% of FDA staff were fired during the shutdown, while others working on "core public health functions" work without pay or reimbursement. This caused alarms from watchdogs, such as the non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest, which said this week that the closure "endangered our food supply". The CSPI urged the agency to provide more information on the duties that are still being exercised been stopped.
"While the FDA states that it will continue to conduct" for good cause "inspections and open criminal and civil investigations into" imminent threats to the health or life of persons, "the agency Issued no new warning letter since the start of the shutdown, more than two weeks later. said the organization in a written statement this week. "This raises concerns that law enforcement activities may actually have ceased."
Craig Hedberg, PhD, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota's Faculty of Public Health, says the closure "should not pose an imminent threat to food security" – as long as President Donald Trump's call for $ 5.7 billion wall along the Mexican border is resolved quickly.
"The longer it lasts, the more opportunities there are for things to go wrong," says Hedberg. "And without this regulatory oversight, things could start to become problematic."
Under the federal law, the US food security system is based on the food sector, where producers have FDA-approved management plans to protect contaminated food from stores and restaurants. The job of the FDA is to make sure these plans are followed and work, says Hedberg.
Closing may have reduced this ability. "But it's up to companies to make sure not to lower their guard just because there's an impression that the federal watchdog is not monitoring them."
Hedberg says the FDA handles about 80% of US food safety issues, sharing duties with the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service. FSIS inspects the meat, poultry and processed egg processing plants, and the USDA says these inspectors are still stationed during the shutdown period.
The same goes for the CDC, which investigates outbreaks of foodborne illness. And although FDA inspectors may have to ignore certain types of facilities at closure, local and regional health departments, as well as health, agriculture and food inspection services, are still in danger. post.
"The longer and more stressful the system is because it compensates for the lack of FDA inspectors and other factors, the more likely it is that something will happen," Hedberg says.
Gottlieb said that because of the holidays, this week was the first one at which the inspections would have been postponed. As a result, he added, the agency could ignore "a few dozen" of the more than 8,000 inspections performed each year.
About a quarter of federal government agencies closed on Dec. 22 after Trump and Congress were unable to reach an agreement on border security.
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