Shutdown Means Food Could Be Less Safe, Cost More


January 11, 2019

By Zlati Meyer

Days after President Donald Trumps televised address about why he wants $5.7 billion to build a security wall along the U.S.s southern border, the federal government shutdown continues.

It is affecting everything from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and airport security to the National Weather Service and business owners who want Small Business Administration loans.

While some of those things you can temporarily do withoutthink trips to national parksfood is vital to life.

Heres a look at how whats going on in Washington could impact your dinner.

Food safety

The potential for unsafe food and a resulting public health problem depends on what kind of food it is and which part of the federal government is responsible for inspecting and monitoring it.

In its contingency staffing plan for operations, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the Food and Drug Administration, said itd be unable to support some routine regulatory and compliance activities, which includes most food-related activities.

The FDAs website says work it deems mission critical, public health activitieslike watching out for and responding to foodborne illness outbreaks, supporting high-risk food recalls and screening food importscontinue. Five recalls have been posted there since the shutdown began on Dec. 22.

Less inspections mean people who are being unsafe may not have anyone who notices, said Brian Kellerman, a Columbus, Ohio-based food-safety consultant. That means more unsafe food makes it to the food supply.

At the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees meat, poultry and processed egg products, inspections are still going on during the shutdown because theyre considered essential.

USDAs Food Safety and Inspection Service personnel who handle these are critical to the functioning of food safety operations in the nations food supply, who would continue to perform services essential to public health.

Kellerman said meat, poultry and processed egg inspections could slow down as a result, though. And the USDA might have to rely more on the states agriculture departments for help.

Food prices

The ripples from the government shutdown wont be coming to your supermarket aisles anytime soon, but they could later.

Some farmers use the USDAs National Agricultural Statistics Service data to make planting decisions. Wrong choices could hurt the offending planters and if its a big enough problem, lead to higher prices.

No new stats are coming their way now: Due to a lapse in federal funding, this USDA website will not be actively updated. Once funding has been reestablished, online operations will continue.

The data is uniformly shut off from all different agencies during shutdowns; its nonessential, said Scott Baker, an associate professor of finance at Northwestern Universitys Kellogg School of Management who studied the 2013 federal government shutdown.

Data is one of the things thats more impacted. Its not visual to the average household. If you rely on government data for the research or operation of your business, youll be feeling that pretty quickly.


The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is out during the shutdown. That means the federal government will not approve beer labels or process permits, which translates into no new beers.

During the shutdown period, but submissions will not be reviewed or approved until appropriations are enacted, the bureaus website said.

A start-up brewery needs a permit to manufacture beer in the U.S., according to the Brewers Association, the Boulder, Colorado-based trade association, which estimates the government handles as many 400 new permits a quarter, so every month means 100-plus breweries are in a holding pattern. Plus, when the government is funded again, brewers could face a backlog to get their new products out.


However, people on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programabbreviated to SNAP and known colloquially as food stampswill continue to get their benefits, at least through February.

When the USDAs funding expired on Dec. 21, SNAP benefits for January were fully funded, so that month was safe, according to the department, which is working with states to issue February benefits early.

Our motto here at USDA has been to Do Right and Feed Everyone, USDA secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement on Tuesday. With this solution, weve got the Feed Everyone part handled. And I believe that the plan weve constructed takes care of the Do Right part as well.

Child nutrition programs, like school meals and after-school programs, have funding available to last through March, the USDA said.

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