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The government shutdown has been an ordeal but also instructive. It was devastating to government workers, contractors and grantees, who were directly harmed by the failures of our leaders to reach a funding agreement and pay them. But taking a step back, and trying to find any silver lining in this 36-day nightmare, we can see three.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has spent the better part of the last two days trying to reassure the public that food safety is not at risk during the shutdown. Yesterday and into today, through a series of tweets, Dr. Gottlieb explained (1) that routine food safety inspections are not taking place now; (2) that he is trying to get them re-started by next week – though he is not sure how to do it because FDA guidance requires routine inspections to cease when there is no funding; and that (3) high-risk food safety inspections are continuing. The key fact that most people don’t know is that there are very few food safety inspections in the U.S, which Politico’s Helena Bottemiller Evich pointed out in a story and in a devastating series of tweets.
Why This Matters: The good news is that your food is almost as safe now as it ever was. The bad news is that our safety inspection system is woefully underfunded and inadequate. But we should have already deduced that fact given the two deadly e-coli outbreaks in the last year. The law on food inspections is relatively strong, but not being fully implemented. And lax agricultural practices and health and safety regulations regarding pesticides and use of certain fertilizers create further loopholes that create more risk than most people realize.
Among the most consequential impacts of the government shutdown are the strain and diminution of capacity to the National Weather Service (NWS) operations, upon which all public and private daily weather forecasts are based.
Why This Matters: One-third of the U.S. economy is impacted by the weather. Indeed, as The Post points out, that means many sectors such as transportation, energy, national security, agriculture, the stock market, not to mention forecasts of extreme weather — are now operating on less than the highly accurate forecasts they usually can rely upon. And imagine if we have a “billion dollar” storm such as a “snowmaggedon” while the shutdown drags on, with lives and profits at risk, which seems increasingly probable as we are now squarely in winter snow season. Offices like the one that Saha works in are down to skeleton staff — only one or two rather than dozens. This weather forecasting degradation is much riskier to the general public than any risk we face from the lack of a feckless border wall segment.
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