As President Trump’s shutdown drags on into its third weeks, the harm and hardship that it is causing is poised to dramatically expand as the Food and Drug Administration admits it’s been forced to cut back on inspecting food production and handling facilities.
“We are doing what we can to mitigate any risk to consumers through the shutdown…It’s not business as usual, and we are not doing all the things we would do under normal circumstances. There are important things we are not doing” admitted said Commissioner Scott Gottlieb to NBC News today.
While the FDA is planning to continue inspecting the highest-risk facilities, like those handling dairy and seafood, its ability to make sure that tainted or diseased food does not reach the general population has been sharply curtailed.
The FDA monitors about 80% of our nation’s food production facilities and typically runs around 160 inspections a month. But after being forced to cancel 50 of them, Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is seeking permission to recall 150 more inspectors back to the front lines of the endless battle against foodborne illness and contamination, out of the 5,000 total employed by the agency.
But those inspectors might not be thrilled at being forced to work without pay, especially since many live paycheck to paycheck, thanks to the government’s low starting salaries.
“We don’t want the person inspecting our meat for disease and feces to be distracted by not being able to pay their bills. It is also very hard to get qualified people to work in a slaughterhouse, and many inspectors have advanced food safety or veterinary degrees and could get better-paying jobs elsewhere but choose to work for the government because of the sense of mission and stability” says Sarah Sorscher at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
It is not an understatement to say that millions of Americans are being put at risk if this shutdown continues for much longer and the FDA continues to be hamstrung by a lack of funding.
48 million Americans fall sick due to contaminated food every year and 3,000 people die from it — a clear and present danger to the American people, unlike the imaginary threat of criminal illegal immigrants that the President is holding the government hostage over.
The Washington Post reports that “about 60 percent of the FDA’s activities are funded by user fees, which enable the agency to continue many operations, at least for now, including drug and device reviews. About 40 percent of the agency’s activities, including most of its food-related work, are paid for by appropriations, which have not been approved by Congress…Even by the standards of previous shutdowns, this event has been chaotic. ”
Reporters say that President Trump was directly asked this afternoon by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer why he wouldn’t just re-open the government and “stop hurting people.”
An exchange, per source familiar w/WH meeting:
Schumer: You're using people as leverage. Why won't you open the government and stop hurting people?
POTUS: Because then you won't give me what I want.
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) January 9, 2019
The President of the United States is willing to make hundreds of thousands of people work without pay and put millions more at a very real risk of sickness and possibly death all because he won’t compromise on his demand for a personal monument to racism and xenophobia to be built and paid for with taxpayer money.
That alone should be an impeachable offense.