Americans only just survived the great romaine lettuce scare of 2018, and now the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has postponed routine domestic food safety inspections due to the partial federal government shutdown, the agency's commissioner said on Wednesday.
FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb tweeted that the agency usually conducts about 160 domestic inspections on manufacturing and food processing plants each week. About a third of that inventory are foods considered at high risk for causing foodborne illnesses, such as seafood, dairy products, fruits and vegetables. The ongoing government impasse, however, has postponed much of these inspections.
"There's no question of whether it's business as usual at FDA," Gottlieb told NBC News. "It's not business as usual, and we are not doing all the things we would do under normal circumstances. There are important things we are not doing."
The FDA oversees the manufacturing and distribution of the vast majority of the nation's food, pharmaceuticals and other consumer products.
About 41 percent the agency's 17,000 employees are currently furloughed due to the shutdown, according to NBC News.
Gottlieb told The New York Times he wants to bring back 150 inspectors by next week to restore food safety surveillance, especially at high-risk domestic facilities, but he was not sure how to do it.
"These are people who are now furloughed and can collect unemployment insurance or take a second job," he explained to the newspaper. "If we pull them in and tell them they have to work, they can't collect. I have to make sure I'm not imposing an undue hardship."
The shutdown has not stopped FDA inspections on foreign food, Gottlieb emphasized. Additionally, the Department of Agriculture is still inspecting domestic meat and poultry, but the staff are doing so without pay, according to The Times.
At the moment, the FDA's operations are continuing "to the extent permitted by law, such as activities necessary to address imminent threats to the safety of human life and activities funded by carryover user fee funds," its website states.
Consumer advocates are worried about the health and safety American public with so many FDA inspectors off the job.
"These are inspections where they catch issues before people get sick," Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest told The Times. "The announcement that they are going to try to start up high-risk inspections is a positive step. But, we've had outbreaks from foods that are not high risk—from flour, from packaged foods. So I think that the fact that two-thirds of establishments are not going to be inspected is still a problem."
About 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Last year's high-profile outbreak of E. coli traced to romaine lettuce sickened 62 people in the U.S. and 29 in Canada. The outbreak, traced to farms in California, appears to be finally over as of Wednesday, the CDC announced.
Britain's Prince William interviewed famed broadcaster David Attenborough on Tuesday at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Switzerland.
During the sit-down, the 92-year-old naturalist advised the world leaders and business elite gathered in Davos this week that we must respect and protect the natural world, adding that the future of its survival—as well as humanity's survival—is in our hands.
What's more, the accounting firm predicts that another 21 million electric cars will be on the road globally over the next decade due to growing market demand for clean transportation, government subsidies, as well as bans on fossil fuel cars.
By Matthew Savoca
Plastic pollution in the world's oceans has become a global environmental crisis. Many people have seen images that seem to capture it, such as beaches carpeted with plastic trash or a seahorse gripping a cotton swab with its tail.
Greenland is melting about four times faster than it was in 2003, a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found, a discovery with frightening implications for the pace and extent of future sea level rise.
"We're going to see faster and faster sea level rise for the foreseeable future," study lead author and Ohio State University geodynamics professor Dr. Michael Bevis said in a press release. "Once you hit that tipping point, the only question is: How severe does it get?"
Finally, some good news about the otherwise terrible partial government shutdown. A federal judge ruled that the Trump administration cannot issue permits to conduct seismic testing during the government impasse.
The Justice Department sought to delay—or stay—a motion filed by a range of coastal cities, businesses and conservation organizations that are suing the Trump administration over offshore oil drilling, Reuters reported. The department argued that it did not have the resources it needed to work on the case due to the shutdown.
Most people have heard of the Amazon, South America's famed rainforest and hub of biological diversity. Less well known, though no less critical, is the Pantanal, the world's largest tropical wetland.
Like the Amazon, the Pantanal is ecologically important and imperiled. Located primarily in Brazil, it also stretches into neighboring Bolivia and Paraguay. Covering an area larger than England at more than 70,000 square miles, the massive wetland provides irreplaceable ecosystem services that include the regulation of floodwaters, nutrient renewal, river flow for navigability, groundwater recharge and carbon sequestration. The wetland also supports the economies of the four South American states it covers.
By Andrea Germanos
Organizers said 35,000 people marched through the streets of the German capital on Saturday to say they're "fed up" with industrial agriculture and call for a transformation to a system that instead supports the welfare of the environment, animals and rural farmers.
By Patrick Rogers
If you have ever considered making the switch to an environmentally friendly electric vehicle, don't drag your feet. Though EV prices are falling, and states are unveiling more and more public charging stations and plug-in-ready parking spots, the federal government is doing everything it can to slam the brakes on our progress away from gas-burning internal combustion engines. President Trump, likely pressured by his allies in the fossil fuel industry, has threatened to end the federal tax credits that have already helped put hundreds of thousands of EVs on the road—a move bound to harm not only our environment but our economy, too. After all, the manufacturing and sale of EVs, hybrids, and plug-in hybrids supported 197,000 jobs in 2017, according to the most recent U.S. Energy and Employment Report.