The government shutdown could adversely affect Americans' health as well as their pocketbooks.
The government shutdown is endangering what Americans consume, as all inspections of domestic food except meat and poultry have been halted, The New York Times reports. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have brought back furloughed workers to handle a salmonella outbreak that has sickened hundreds of people in 18 states.
The individuals who ensure that fruit, vegetables, dairy products and other domestically produced food are safe to consume have been furloughed. Food inspectors, lab technicians, administrative staff and communications specialists have been sent home due to the shutdown over government spending.
"This is a self-inflicted wound that is putting people's health at risk," said Representative Rosa L. DeLauro, a Democrat of Connecticut and activist for food safety.
She said that because the shutdown occurred after budget cuts to the agencies, "you're creating the potential for a real public health crisis."
The Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for inspecting most of the food that ends up on American tables, has gone from inspecting around 200 plants per week to none. It has also reduced the inspection of imported food. A meat and poultry hot line that consumers can call about food safety or to report problems has been closed.
At the C.D.C, about 68 percent of staff members have been furloughed, including epidemiologists and other workers that track food-borne illnesses. Such staff members identify sickness linked to dangerous strains of bacteria like salmonella and E. coli, and their absences reduce the C.D.C's ability to respond to outbreaks.
Although the agency has brought back about 30 furloughed workers to handle the salmonella outbreak, which is linked to raw chicken, the agency is still short-staffed. Barbara Reynolds, a center spokeswoman, said, "We're still down to a skeleton crew."
Others are worried about the agency's ability to disseminate information about outbreaks. "When you have an outbreak and health alert like this, you have to get this information into the hands of consumers," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington research group. "The C.D.C. 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."
Many important agricultural reports used by farmers and traders have also been canceled due to the shutdown, which impedes decision-making about planting and is disruptive for the commodities market, The Times reports. A significant report that was canceled is the World Agriculture Supply and Demand Estimates, which provides statistics on the global production of crops like corn and cotton and data about meat and sugar.
"It leaves the commodities market in a bit of a fog," said Christopher Narayan, an analyst with the bank Société Générale in New York. He also said investors will not be able to obtain accurate information.
At the F.D.A., about 45 percent of the agency's staff members have been furloughed. "F.D.A. is doing what it can under this difficult situation to protect public health," said Steven Immergut, the agency's assistant commissioner for media affairs.
The F.D.A currently inspects less than 2 percent of imported food, even when the government is open. About 20 percent of the food Americans eat is imported, including 85 percent of seafood and a great deal of produce. The current inspection of imported food will be limited because of the shutdown.
A new food safety law passed in 2011, which enhances the power of the F.D.A, has been delayed because of sequester budget cuts, and is now delayed further because of the shutdown.