The shutdown of the federal government for the first time since 1996, initiated at 12 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 1, by the expiration of FY 2013 appropriations, brought on a wave of uncertainty for citizens and businesses across the nation. The food and agriculture industry is no exception.
This industry was doubly affected, however, with the simultaneous expiration of the Farm Bill, on the same day. This combination of events stands to impact to varying degrees both food production and safety in the short- and long-term.
The following is a summary of the most significant effects of these two funding lapses on the agencies most involved in the food and agriculture industry:
- FDA oversees roughly 85 percent of the nation's food supply. Forty-five percent of its workforce (roughly 6,600 personnel), including food inspectors, is furloughed due to the government shutdown (the Farm Bill expiration did not contribute to these furloughs). Nearly all furloughs are on the food side of the agency. The drug side of FDA continues to operate based on industry fee revenue carried over from the previous fiscal year.
- Unlike the USDA, FDA doesn't require onsite inspectors for food facilities to operate, so companies with facilities regulated by FDA, like produce and seafood, will not need to close their doors. If the shutdown continues for an extended period of time, a backlog of audits could create problems for inspectors, and facilities due for inspection, upon their return to work.
- An extended delay could also have an effect on the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) – upcoming public meetings on recently-released proposed rules could be canceled and the lack of staff at FDA and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) could delay the regulatory review process.
- According to the FDA contingency plan, the agency will "continue select vital activities including maintaining critical consumer protection to handle emergencies, high-risk recalls, civil and criminal investigations, import entry review, and other critical public health issues." These activities will be done with skeleton staff, however, meaning no foodborne outbreak tracing, inspection of food imports, lab research nor publishing of guidance documents.
- FDA acknowledged in its shutdown contingency plan, however, that it would have to cease food safety activities such as routine establishment inspections, some compliance and enforcement activities, monitoring of imports, notification programs (e.g., food contact substances, infant formula), and the majority of the laboratory research necessary to inform public health decision-making.