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Shutdown 'Puts US Food Supply at Risk'

FDA has suspended domestic inspections
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 10, 2019 4:28 AM CST
Romaine lettuce is removed from the shelves of the East End Food Co-op in Pittsburgh after an E-coli alert last year.   (Jessie Wardarski/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP, File)
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(Newser) – The government shutdown has put America's food supply at risk despite the best efforts of the Food and Drug Administration, experts warn. The agency has had to suspend routine testing of most domestic food production facilities, though inspections of imports are continuing. Inspectors working without pay are continuing to inspect meat and poultry facilities. Under normal circumstances, the FDA inspects around 160 US food production facilities a week, many of them deemed high-risk. "There’s no question of whether it's business as usual at FDA," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told NBC News. "It’s not business as usual, and we are not doing all the things we would do under normal circumstances. There are important things we are not doing."

The FDA, which oversees around 80% of the US food supply, has had to furlough the 41% of workers who are in jobs not supported by user fees. Sarah Sorscher of the Center for Science in the Public Interest advocacy group tells the Washington Post that cutting back on inspections "puts our food supply at risk." "Regular inspections, which help stop foodborne illness before people get sick, are vital," she says. Gottlieb says he is working on a plan to bring back around 150 furloughed inspectors to deal with inspections of high-risk facilities, including those dealing with seafood and soft cheeses, though he is trying to make sure he is not "imposing undue hardship," the New York Times reports. (President Trump abruptly walked out of a meeting on ending the shutdown Wednesday.)

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