House bill would end shutdown for FDA

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About 45 percent of the FDA's staff has been furloughed, halting research programs, some compliance and enforcement efforts and routine food safety establishment inspections.

Consumer safety advocates say that those functions are critical to making sure that Americans’ food is safe.

“An outbreak may already be happening but without the skills of federal public health investigators, it could continue without an appropriate public health response,” Center for Science in the Public Interest Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaal said in a statement on Friday. 

She noted that along with the FDA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are charged with detecting and preventing outbreaks.

The shutdown, she said, “means that some outbreaks will never be investigated and solved while others might be solved days or weeks later than they otherwise would. And each day of delay means that more consumers could be sickened from the undiscovered contaminated food.”

Medical device companies and other firms regulated by the FDA have worried that the lack of workers at the agency could leave them in the lurch.

Despite the cutbacks at the FDA, other agencies are dealing with larger cuts due to the shutdown.

About 95 percent of the employees at the Environmental Protection Agency have been furloughed, for instance, and a similar proportion of workers at the Consumer Product Safety Commission are barred from coming to the job.

The House bill is part of a House Republican effort to pass narrow, targeted spending bills for individual agencies and purposes.

Democrats have opposed that tactic, and President Obama has pledged to veto piecemeal funding measures.

“Instead of opening up a few Government functions, the House of Representatives should re-open all of the Government,” the White House said earlier this week in response to the effort.