United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety Testing Disrupted by Federal Hiring Freeze
The freeze is expected to result in delays in lab testing through at least early March
A federal hiring freeze and an executive order made by President Trump temporarily putting regulations on hold are impacting efforts to ensure food safety.
According to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials, the hold will have little—if any—effect on the provisions of the Food Safety Modernization Act that have staggered compliance dates depending on businesses' size.
The hold order does not affect new rules and regulations already published in the Federal Register. Guidance documents are also not impacted.
It is not clear how other FDA activities will be affected by the hold order.
The hiring freeze is already affecting the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), the other federal agency that is mainly involved in food safety.
Food Safety News (FSN) obtained an internal message sent to FSIS employees on January 18 that warned about delays in lab testing expected to last through March 3 at least. The FSIS ensures 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," the email stated. "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 worried that this is only the beginning of the ramifications of the hiring freeze.
"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. Representative Rosa Delauro told FSN.
"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."