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Unpaid FDA Workers Restart ‘High Risk’ Food Inspections
After a year that saw the most Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) food safety investigations in at least 12 years, one of the most frightening impacts of the ongoing government shutdown has been the suspension of routine food safety investigations by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Now it looks like America's eaters can rest a little easier. FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb announced on Twitter Monday that FDA employees had stepped up to do some important food inspection work unpaid.
"We re-starting high risk food inspections as early as tomorrow," Gottlieb wrote.
'High risk' foods include soft cheeses, sea food, custard-filled baked goods, some fruits and vegetables and baby formula, The New York Times reported. Lower risk foods include non-custard-filled baked goods, according to NBC.
Gottlieb told NBC last week he would attempt to recall about 10 percent of the food inspectors who had been furloughed since the government shutdown began December 22.
"We got an overwhelming response from our very dedicated and mission-driven field force who are coming back to work unpaid," he told NBC.
The FDA is responsible for inspecting food-producing facilities. It usually conducts about 160 inspections a month with a team of 5,000 inspectors. Gottlieb said about 700 were returning to work. In addition to restarting high-risk inspections today, the FDA also began sampling high-risk imported produce in the Northeast region on Monday, Gottlieb tweeted. The agency will also restart drug inspections.
"By next week we will have restarted all the medical product inspections that weren't covered by user fees that were shut down," he told NBC. "That includes things like compounding inspections."
Recalled workers will also assist with the monitoring of food-caused disease outbreaks, The New York Times reported.
Meanwhile, inspections of meat and some egg products, which fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have continued throughout the shutdown thanks to unpaid workers. Congress mandates that these inspections never cease, NBC reported.
Gottlieb told The New York Times that the shutdown had not interfered with many scheduled FDA inspections because it began over the holidays and not many inspections were scheduled for the second week of January. As the shutdown wore on, Gottlieb got permission from the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services to recall some employees, about 40 percent of whom had been furloughed.
About a third of FDA inspections involve high risk food, Gottlieb told The New York Times. The FDA is responsible for monitoring around 80 percent of the U.S. food supply, as well as international imports. It is responsible for some 80,000 food plants, inspecting around 10 percent each year.
- Lettuce Recall Is a Wake Up Call for Food Safety - EcoWatch ›
- Routine FDA Food Inspections Suspended by Shutdown - EcoWatch ›
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By Will Sarni
It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.
The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future
We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.
"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.
One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.
Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.
Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.
These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.
We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).
We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.
We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.
Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.
Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.
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