What's the Latest Development?
One potentially dangerous consequence of the US government shutdown -- now in its fourth day -- is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is unable to fully perform inspections of food items imported into the country. This means almost half of all foreign fruit, a fifth of all foreign vegetables, and over 90 percent of all foreign seafood isn't being checked for issues like pesticides, contamination, and cleanliness. For what it's worth, the FDA is still able to act in case of an outbreak or other "critical public health issues," but Caroline Smith DeWaal of the Center for Science in the Public Interest says she's skeptical that the agency "[has] the capacity to recognize an emergency and respond to it."
What's the Big Idea?
Even before the shutdown, the FDA was underfunded, having lost $209 million in funding as a result of recent budget cuts. Consequently there were 2,100 fewer inspections this year compared to last, and the current crisis is making the problem worse. Meat and poultry production is still safe, since the government requires a US Department of Agriculture inspector on the premises. Also, state inspection agencies are still up and running, though "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."
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