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U.S. government shutdown a public health risk, experts warn

Posting in Food

The U.S. government shutdown is endangering the health of citizens, food safety experts have warned this week.

Federal agencies responsible for domestic food inspections across the U.S. have been in the dark over the last week as workers have been sent on compulsory furloughs. As a result, all inspections of food except meat and poultry have ground to a halt, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have already been forced to bring back staff to deal with a salmonella outbreak that made hundreds of people in 18 states sick.

Fruit, vegetables and dairy are all foods that are no longer under inspection, which Representative Rosa L. DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut says is "creating the potential for a real public health crisis."

At the CDC, almost 70 percent of staff are on compulsory leave. Although 30 members of staff were brought back to deal with the salmonella outbreak, the center's ability to deal with illnesses has been reduced. Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director at research group the Center for Science in the Public Interest said:

"When you have an outbreak and health alert like this, you have to get this information into the hands of consumers. The CDC may have brought back some staffers, but their communications staff is working at reduced capacity and that's a concern. The agency's ability to get information out is limited."

Hotlines to report food issues have been shut, crucial agriculture reports used by traders and farmers have been cancelled, and the inspection of imported produce is extremely limited.

At the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, almost half of staff have been furloughed, leaving the agency with a skeleton crew -- and now rather than trying to inspect 200 plants per week, none are being reviewed for health and safety problems.

Roughly 20 percent of produce consumed in the U.S. is imported, and while the FDA will not say exactly how much food is under inspection, the agency admitted that it is less than two percent.

Via: New York Times

Image credit: Flickr

— By on October 9, 2013, 6:50 PM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure