closed food

Mainstream media has been using National Park and Monument closures as examples of the fallout of the government shutdown because they make nice photo ops, but if the shutdown persist for much longer, more serious problems may emerge—many related to the safety of our food supply.

Here’s a roundup of the “non-essential” food supply tasks that have been shelved while the government shutdown lingers:

  1. The Farm Bill has expired and cannot be taken up again until the government has a budget. This will halt all farm subsidy payments and delay loan applications for farmers.
  2. As a result of the Farm Bill‘s expiration, the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program will expire, forcing the government to buy milk at 1940 production costs, and effectively doubling the cost of a gallon of milk to $6 by January 1.
  3. The entire staff of the National Organic Standards Program has been furloughed. They’re responsible for making sure that foods labeled as organic actually are.  In addition, the departments that oversee country of origin labeling have also been sent home.
  4. Funding for the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, which provides coupons to low-income seniors to help them buy fresh produce, expired with the Farm Bill.
  5. Disaster relief for cattle farmers will go unpaid; when the program expired in 2011, thousands of cattle were slaughtered because farmers couldn’t afford their feed.
  6. USDA employees who compile and release weekly statistical reports on agricultural crops (think “pork futures”) have been furloughed, which will affect commodity and equity investors who rely on the information.
  7. The FDA will inspect fewer shipments of imported foods.
  8. After furloughing 52 percent of its staff, the CDC will be severely limited in its ability to track or investigate any instances of foodborne illness. (Not to mention tracking outbreaks of the flu.)
  9. New distilleries, wineries, and breweries will not be able to open because they won’t be able to get the necessary permits.

And this is just a fraction of the government agencies that affect our health that have been shut down. NPR’s Science Friday has a good roundup of links pertaining to the shutdown’s wider effect on science and research.

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