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Government Shutdown Curtails F.D.A. Food Inspections

Category: Health & Fitness,Lifestyle

Soon after the shutdown began, the F.D.A. gave inspectors access to a central expense account so they could continue traveling while avoiding large personal credit card bills without knowing when the government would reimburse them.

The agency, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, is not dependent on federal funding for all of its activities. It receives much of its support from user fees imposed on the pharmaceutical, medical device, generic drug and other industries it regulates.

Although about 41 percent of the staff is now furloughed because the agency had not received its federal appropriations before the shutdown, those in jobs supported by user fees have remained at work. But even those departments have taken a hit, as the F.D.A. has had to shift priorities for some duties.

In the pharmaceutical section, for example, some officials who generally consider pending drug applications are now working on post-market surveillance, checking for adverse events, like unexpected side effects of drugs or other problems.

“We have a deep concern about those employees who were furloughed, their inability to fulfill their public health functions, and the tremendous personal impact that it has on them,” said Ladd Wiley, executive director of the Alliance for a Stronger F.D.A., a nonprofit advocacy group. “We are also grateful to the roughly 10,000 employees who are retained and working.”

But, Mr. Wiley added, his organization also was concerned about nonemergency functions that the F.D.A. has had to put aside. Among the important work being delayed right now, he noted, are manufacturing inspections, technical assistance and advice to the produce industry — especially guidance for preventing contamination — and activity related to food additives.

“There is a whole list of things that are not getting done,” he said.

Some public health experts were worried about the impact of the shutdown on inspection of fish. Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said he was concerned about contaminated shellfish ending up on store shelves during the shutdown.

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