by Michelle Ruiz– Vogue
Not only are government employees with mortgages and bills not being paid under the ongoing nearly three-week-long government shutdown, but now there is a potential public health threat: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has drastically cut back on routine inspections of high-risk foods at manufacturing and processing plants across the country, leaving seafood, fruits, vegetables, and many other foods at high risk of contamination unchecked by federal officials.
“It’s not business as usual, and we are not doing all the things we would do under normal circumstances,” FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., told NBC News. He notes that meat and some poultry products are still being inspected by employees currently going without pay but “there are important things we are not doing.” While food companies may also self-check, the FDA provides an additional level of government regulation and oversight.
The FDA normally does an estimated 160 food domestic inspections every week for things like bugs, rodents, mishandled food, improper preparation, and other hazards—about one-third of plants are considered high risk, according to Gottlieb. At present, due to the shutdown conditions, “FDA inspectors are not looking for salmonella in breakfast cereal, E. coli in romaine lettuce, or listeria in ice cream,” NBC notes. According to a September 2018 report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that “48 million Americans—one in six—are made sick by contaminated foods annually. Those illnesses caused more than 125,000 hospitalizations and about 3,000 deaths.” (This is significantly more than the number of Americans killed by undocumented immigrants, despite what the president has said.)
Gottlieb says he hopes to restore inspections by bringing back employees on furlough, but he acknowledges that could pose an “undue hardship” to those workers: “These are people who are now furloughed and can collect unemployment insurance or take a second job. . . . If we pull them in and tell them they have to work, they can’t collect.”
It’s more proof that while Trump appears to see the shutdown as a massive, extreme bargaining chip to fulfill an asinine campaign promise, people’s livelihoods—and their health—hang in the balance.