Earlier this week, President Trump signed an executive order that put into effect an across-the-board employment freeze for federal employees, excluding those in the military, national security, and public safety. The move has received a fair amount of public blowback, with many veterans speaking out against the order and arguing it will not only dramatically slow the responsiveness of Veterans Affairs, but take away federal jobs from veterans returning from service.
Now, it appears as if the federal hiring freeze is also impacting the USDA's ability to inspect and ensure the safety of the food Americans consume. Earlier today, Food Safety News published the contents of an internal message that was sent to employees of the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service. The email, which was sent out on January 18, warned employees to expect delays in all lab testing until at least March 3.
"Effective Jan. 18, 2017, due to a temporary decrease in staffing, results on pathology samples submitted to the FSIS laboratory system will be delayed," explained the internal email. "AMR-01 and rush cases will be given priority status; however turnaround times are expected to be delayed by at least 24 hours on these samples. This is expected to be rectified by March 3, 2017, but is dependent on staffing key vacancies. The Pathology Branch apologizes for the inconvenience these delays will cause."
While the sudden freeze on testing might not sound like that big of a deal to the average American, consider the fact that the FSIS is responsible for ensuring the safety of all meat, poultry, catfish, and processed egg products sold in the US.
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from the state of Connecticut, told Food Safety News that she was greatly concerned by the move and its ramifications. "Less than a week into the Trump Administration, we are already seeing the devastating effects of President Trump's federal hiring freeze. News that the USDA does not have enough staff to properly test the nation's food supply is extremely disconcerting and it is only of matter of time until a consumer ends up sick—or worse, dead,"
MUNCHIES reached out to the USDA for comment on the matter, but has not yet received a response.
"President Trump should take a good hard look at the implications of his decisions and stop jeopardizing the health and well being of the American people with his overreaching executive actions," DeLauro added.
The Obama administration had made food safety a priority, particularly during Obama's second term. It appears that President Trump is stepping away from that legacy, as statements he made during his campaign suggested he might.
Consumers, caveat emptor.