Why our health was at risk during the shutdown

If the government shutdowns again, the country is at risk of a national foodborne epidemic.


President Donald Trump temporarily ended the 35-day federal government shutdown on Friday by signing a bill to reopen the government. But the country could face another shutdown if his demands for a border wall aren’t met by Feb. 15.

The furlough of thousands of government employees was the most obvious effect of the shutdown, but we can’t overlook the organization whose lack of funding may still cause major repercussions for the health and safety of the nation. 

The United States Food and Drug Administration, which oversees the health and safety of nearly 80 percent of Americans’ food supply, announced it had stopped routine inspections of many foods at risk of contamination, including seafood, fruits and vegetables.

Meat and poultry were still undergoing routine inspections at the Agriculture Department, but employees were working without pay. Without their unpaid labor, we would have dangerously increased chances of contracting foodborne illnesses like E. coli. 

I once saw myself working for the CDC as an epidemiologist, but if weeks or even months of working without pay are a possibility, I’m hesitant to pursue it. 

I hope Trump thinks about the health of our nation when making his decision about the possibility of another shutdown in three weeks because foodborne illnesses hospitalize 128,000 Americans each year, killing 3,000 of them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Patricia Amberg-Blyskal, a political science professor at Temple University, said part of the problem is the “lack of respect of civil workers and honoring their service.”

“You have to be intuitive and understand the food you get in a store or restaurant is there because of the infrastructure and the people who dedicate their lives to promoting the safety of others,” Amberg-Blyskal said. 

People in civil positions whose job it is to protect us from dangers, even microscopic ones, are underappreciated. This should not be ignored.

In his project “Government is Good,” Douglas Amy, a political science professor at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, wrote about how every aspect of his day is improved by federal programs and policies in “innumerable ways.” 

For example in his “A Day in Your Life” post, at 6:45 a.m., he makes breakfast with food that has been cleared for consumption by inspectors.

“You sit down to breakfast with your family,” Amy wrote. “But the chance of you getting sick from these eggs has now been greatly reduced by a recently passed series of strict federal rules that apply to egg producers.”

Luckily, as of yet, no outbreaks have occurred since the reduction of inspections, but we are treading on thin ice. 

“I think it’s only because of the sheer determination of our workers who [were] still coming in [without pay] that people haven’t gotten sick already,” Amberg-Blyskal said. 

We can all take a sigh of relief for now, but the future is uncertain. I’m not sure we will be this lucky again three weeks from now if this conflict isn’t resolved. Our health is on the line.

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