We are now in Week 4 of the partial government shutdown, with little to no resolution in sight.
Zoos, museums and national parks are closed.
Several TSA agents are calling in sick, putting a damper on air travel safety and efficiency.
The National Transportation Safety Board, Washington, D.C., is unable to properly investigate significant highway, railroad and aviation accidents.
And, my contacts at Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Energy’s Energy Star, Washington, D.C., are out of office.
Furthermore, some government employees are expected to continue working without pay, while others collect unemployment and look for other jobs. In fact, of FDA’s 17,397 employees, 41% (7,053) will be furloughed, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Washington, D.C.
This in turn puts a damper on food safety.
Calling the government shutdown "one of the most significant operational challenges in FDA's recent history," FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a tweet that he expanded the list of food safety activities “to protect public health armed with only a skeletal staff.”
High-risk commodities such as modified-atmosphere packaged (MAP) products, dairy products, including soft, semi-soft, soft ripened cheese and cheese products, fresh fruits and vegetables, sandwiches, prepared salads and more are just a short list of food products that require stringent food safety regulations.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that many Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices will temporarily re-open to perform limited services for farmers and ranchers.
“Three weeks in, the cascading effects of the shutdown are hitting the CPG industry,” according to a report published by Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), Washington, D.C. “The partial government shutdown halted food safety inspections and put regulatory issues at a standstill.”
Meanwhile, cross-border shipment delays are a concern for shippers, as the federal government's partial shutdown continues, according to an article published by The Wall Street Journal, New York. Approval lags for export licenses, refund-processing issues for customs payments and staff reductions for cargo security are contributing to slowdowns at airports and seaports.
According to a poll conducted online by Refrigerated & Frozen Foods reveals that 14% of respondents cannot effectively operate due to the partial government shutdown, while 29% of businesses are in operation, but can’t fully do their job. Nearly 57% remain unaffected by the shutdown.
While the partial shutdown impacts many Americans closely tied to the government, it also affects other layers of business such as ports, food safety, supply chains and more.
That’s why Marina Mayer, editor-in-chief of Refrigerated & Frozen Foods, reached out to a handful of industry contacts to discover if and how the government shutdown is impacting various sectors of the cold food and beverage industry. Here’s what industry experts had to say:
“The FDA regulates products that make up 20% of consumer spending. Despite that, 40% of FDA’s workforce has been shut down because of an unrelated issue in an appropriations bill that doesn’t involve FDA. The alliance will now re-double our efforts to make sure that policymakers and the public understand that FDA provides public health services that are core functions of government. When FDA is unable to perform them, the public is at unnecessary risk,” says Wayne Pines, vice president for the Alliance for a Stronger FDA, Silver Spring, Md.
“While the most critical FDA functions will be handled during this shutdown and many user fee-funded activities will continue for a time, we hope that the Congress and the President will move swiftly to break the impasse, or at least, pass the Agriculture/FDA appropriations bill to enable FDA to resume its essential consumer-protection activities,” adds Ladd Wiley, executive director of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA, Silver Spring, Md.
“The frozen food and beverage industry is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Some of our members have dual jurisdiction, meaning both USDA and FDA regulate their facilities. While USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and FDA are partially shut down, their food safety work is deemed essential under the protocols that are followed when budget authority is lost,” says Dr. Donna Garren, executive vice president of science and policy for American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI), Arlington, Va.
“FDA will continue specific activities within the scope of its user-fee funded programs. The mission-critical public health activities that will continue include:
- Screening food imports to the United States,
- Maintaining core functions to handle foodborne illness outbreaks,
- Supporting high-risk food recalls,
- Pursuing civil and criminal investigations when public health is imminently at risk, and
- Addressing other critical public health issues that involve imminent threats to the safety of human and animal life.
FSIS meat and poultry inspectors have been on duty as usual at the more than 6,000 establishments that fall under their jurisdiction since the shutdown began. FSIS’ label review is also an expected activity under the government shutdown. However, due to reduced staffing, food companies could experience significant delays in receiving pre-market approval of labels should the shutdown continue,” she adds.
“Most of the services provided by the federal government to ensure the movement of goods (primarily exports and imports) and people (primarily cruise passengers) through America’s ports are considered ‘essential,’ so the impacts of the partial government shutdown on America’s seaports has been relatively light so far. Essentially, any agency funded through annual appropriations or the general fund is closed until a continuing resolution or a budget is passed,” says Aaron Ellis, public affairs director for American Association of Port Authorities, Alexandria, Va.
“The [government shutdown] hasn’t affected us at all. Our USDA inspector is on furlough, but he’s still showing up and doing his job,” says Josh Knott, president of Knott's Foods, Inc., Paris, Tenn., and president of Refrigerated Foods Association, Marietta, Ga.
“We really have not seen much of an impact yet as a result of the shutdown. I’m not getting reports from members with any problems related to the shutdown. For our members handling meat and poultry, the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service is still conducting inspections and issuing export certificates. FDA is also continuing its activities related to outbreaks, high-risk recalls and imports, however, work outside these areas has been suspended during the shutdown. For our members involved with the USDA’s food and nutrition programs, those efforts are also continuing during the shutdown,” says Lowell Randel, vice president of government and industry affairs at Global Cold Chain Alliance