Since the government has been shutdown, many "unnecessary" federal offices are closed and not working. This includes the FDA and EPA, and routine food inspections and delaying renewable fuel standards, according to The Guardian on Wednesday, Oct. 2nd.
About 94% of the employees of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and 45% of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) employees have been sent on leave of absence as part of the US government shutdown.
91 percent of seafood that Americans consume, which the United States imports, is not being inspected as long as the shutdown continues. The same goes for the nearly 50 percent of fruits and 20 percent of vegetables consumed in the US but imported from abroad. In addition,though many of inspections here in the US are still being carried out through state and local agencies, reporting any problems encountered at the federal level could be difficult.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will still maintain thousands of inspectors to check out meat and poultry facilities, and the Food Safety and Inspection Service is still allowed to recall workers in the event of an emergency. So there's still a fair bit of oversight capacity in place. But many routine FDA activities on this front will come to a halt.
The EPA on September 20 unveiled new emissions standards for new power plants. The proposal will undergo an extensive public comment period over the next few months after which the agency will revise the proposal. A shutdown would delay the comment period as well.
EPA rules due in 2014 under President Barack Obama's climate action plan, the agency should be able to complete its work on time, even if it has "to work a little harder" - depending on the length of the shutdown.
The Environmental Protection Agency will stop monitoring air pollution and pesticide use.
Food-safety advocates worry that even a short-term lapse in the FDA’s activities could be a notable setback for the agency. The FDA, in partnership with the states, inspects about 80 facilities a day, and they’re not sending people to do those routine inspections.
She notes that individual state agencies, which actually conduct a large portion of inspections, will continue operating, but it’s unclear how long they can go on without federal oversight – and the fees the FDA pays such agencies to conduct inspections on its behalf.
The bigger problem, according to DeWaal, could be the management of those inspections, and whether the FDA can adequately respond to an emergency.
“Those inspections help to prevent problems with food safety, fix them before contaminated foods get into the market. These agencies are working at very minimal capacity. They say they will retain some capacity for emergencies, but if you don’t have CDC [Centers for Disease Control] in place and you're operating on a skeleton crew anyway, I don’t have confidence that they have the capacity to recognize and emergency and respond to it.”
Unfortunately, both the EPA and FDA are underfunded as it is, and to add salt to injury, the FDA lost $209 million as part of the $85 billion in automatic budget cuts that took place March 1 of this year, forcing 2,100 fewer inspections from 2012.
Emily Sutherlin is also the Pregnancy Examiner.
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