It’s only been one week, and already President Trump has checked off a lot of boxes on his to-do list. Unfortunately, one of those things has been to implement a hiring freeze for Federal organizations, including the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. So what’s the big deal? Is it possible that the media and opponents of this freeze are just blowing things out of proportion? After all, Trump probably has his reasons, like trying to reign in wasteful spending or something. Well, the big deal is that a Federal hiring freeze has the potential to negatively impact the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS).
Just what kind of negative impacts could this hiring freeze have where the FSIS is concerned? What does the FSIS even do that’s so important? For starters, the FSIS is a regulatory agency whose purpose in to ensure that our nation’s “commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged.” Additionally, they also act as “a national health department,” responsible for the “safety of public food-related establishments as well as business investigation.”
To date, there is an estimated 7,800 personnel in the FSIS inspection program that are “assigned to about 6,200 Federal slaughter, food processing, and import establishments” throughout the country. A hiring freeze like the one Trump implemented earlier this week could cause delays in lab tests. In fact, an email sent to FSIS employees said, “Effective Jan. 18, 2017, due to a temporary decrease in staffing, results on pathology samples submitted to the FSIS laboratory system will be delayed.” The email went on to explain:
“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.”
This is a big deal because it could have negative implications where our nation’s food safety is concerned. Understandably, some members of Congress, like U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro, D-CT, are concerned that the hiring freeze will have devastating consequences. In a statement to Food Safety News, she said, “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 a matter of time until a consumer ends up sick — or worse, dead.” She went on to suggest that Trump needs to fully analyze the potential implications of his decisions and refrain from passing legislation that puts the health of Americans at risk.
As for other Federal agencies and organizations, it’s unclear so far how the hiring freeze will impact other parts of society. Representatives of Food Safety News reached out to the White House for comments about the matter, but so far no one has responded. Doesn’t really make the average consumer, who might have concerns over the safety of their food, feel very comfortable. And we still have four more years to go.