Federal hiring freeze disrupts USDA’s food safety testing

Federal hiring freeze disrupts USDA’s food safety testing

Food Safety news, By Coral Beach | January 27, 2017
As the federal government continues the transition that comes every time a new administration moves into the White House, a hiring freeze and an order from President Donald Trump that temporarily puts new regulations on hold are having varying consequences for food safety efforts.

Officials at the Food and Drug Administration said the president’s pause button for regulations won’t have much, if any, impact on provisions of the Food Safety Modernization Act that have staggered compliance dates depending on the size of businesses.

New rules and regulations that have already been published in the Federal Register are not impacted by the hold order. The hold order also does not cover guidance documents, such as the draft sprout guidance FDA published in recent days.

It is unclear what impact the hold order may have on other FDA activities. The agency’s spokesperson referred Food Safety News to the White House for clarification.

No one from the White House has responded to questions submitted by Food Safety News earlier this week.

At the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the other federal agency primarily involved in food safety efforts, the federal hiring freeze imposed by the new administration is having an impact on the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS).

In an internal message sent to FSIS employees on Jan. 18 and obtained by Food Safety News warned that delays in lab tests are expected through at least March 3. The FSIS is responsible for ensuring the safety of meat, poultry, processed egg products and catfish.

“Effective Jan. 18, 2017, due to a temporary decrease in staffing, results on pathology samples submitted to the FSIS laboratory system will be delayed,” according to the email sent to all FSIS employees.

“AMR-01 and rush cases will be given priority status; however turnaround times are expected to be delayed by at least 24 hours on these samples. This is expected to be rectified by March 3, 2017, but is dependent on staffing key vacancies. The Pathology Branch apologies for the inconvenience these delays will cause.”

At least one member of Congress is concerned that the FSIS message is the tip of the hiring freeze iceberg.

“Less than a week into the Trump Administration, we are already seeing the devastating effects of President Trump’s federal hiring freeze. News that the USDA does not have enough staff to properly test the nation’s food supply is extremely disconcerting and it is only a matter of time until a consumer ends up sick — or worse, dead,” U.S. Rep Rosa Delauro, D-CT told Food Safety News.

“President Trump should take a good hard look at the implications of his decisions and stop jeopardizing the health and well being of the American people with his overreaching executive actions.”