FSIS Won't Be Shutting Up During the Shutdown
Indeed, according to USDA's shutdown plan, FSIS food safety inspectors have been shrouded as "essential," and will continue to provide inspection services during the shutdown. Notably, at least for now, nearly 90 percent of FSIS's approximately 9,500 employees will remain on the job, tasked with performing essential public health services such as regulatory inspection of meat, poultry and egg products. In addition, the agency will continue to perform lab work essential to identifying public health threats, emergency preparedness and mandatory administrative work. Similarly, AMS grading and inspection services will also continue, as will inspections of import and export activities to prevent the introduction and dissemination of pests. Thus, at least on a routine daily basis, you should not expect to see any immediate or significant change in the short-term.
As for some other well-known USDA programs, most domestic nutrition assistance programs, including SNAP, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program and WIC will continue to operate at the State and local level, at least until the available funding and commodity resources are depleted. The Child Nutrition (CN) Programs, including School Lunch, School Breakfast, Child and Adult Care Feeding, Summer Food Service and Special Milk are expected to continue operations into February. In support of these programs, USDA is employing minimal administrative and management support, including to excepted IT systems and contracts.
With that said, however, most USDA departmental management, administrative and oversight functions, including civil rights, human resources, financial management, audit, non-essential investigative, legal and information technology activities will remain inoperative during the shutdown. In total, almost 40 percent of USDA employees are currently furloughed, and that number is expected to increase as time goes on. It remains unclear how the shutdown will ultimately play out.
In the near-term, the overall effects of the shutdown on the FSIS-regulated food industry will likely be nominal. With that said, it remains essential, as we enter the new year, to remain tireless in our efforts to produce the safest products possible. In addition to continuing FSIS oversight, we will likely be faced by new and emerging challenges this year, driven in large part by the enhanced foodborne illness surveillance and the expanding use of Whole Genome Sequencing to link illnesses to FSIS-regulated products and facilities.