Three, two one – no contact: Covering the US feed industry during a government shutdown

By Aerin Curtis

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/wildpixel
© GettyImages/wildpixel

Related tags: shutdown, US government, Usda, Fda, WASDE

Reporting on the US feed industry, it isn’t always possible to get the answer to every question. However, there is a special kind of frustration when the person or agency you are reaching out to can’t answer your question – because they are at stuck at home.

The partial US federal government shutdown started on December 22; it is now running into a third week, making it the second-longest shutdown in US history, as President Trump demands $5.7bn in taxpayer money for a US-Mexico border wall, and the Democrats refuse to countenance such an move.

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Is anyone there? © GettyImages/Westend61

Several department and federal agencies within the government are operating with limited staff. About 800,000 federal employees are impacted, with about 380,000 furloughed from work until the funding situation is fixed… so no paychecks now for many. 

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is one of nine departments facing funding challenges until the budget issue is resolved.

As part of the department of Health and Human Services, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be operating “to the extent permitted by law”​ and to allow work that has carryover funding, but not all agency operations will take place.

So trying to confirm whether the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) audits of feed manufacturing facilities will take place, for example, is proving challenging right now.

WASDE report 

With many USDA offices shuttered, upcoming reports are no longer expected to be published on time, and it remains unclear just when such publications will be released.

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Hello? Hello? © GettyImages/SochAnam

Trying to monitor crop progress this month is going to be difficult with no WASDE report on the horizon...

Although, the US government shutdown started last month, an announcement regarding the publication of the upcoming World Agriculture Supply and Demand Estimate (WASDE) report was not made until Friday [January 4].

The lapse in federal funding means that work of the National Agricultural Statistic Service (NASS) and the Office of the Chief Economist has been on hold since December 22, the USDA said.

“Given the lead time required for the analysis and compilation of Crop Production, Crop Production-Annual, World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE), Grain Stocks, Rice Stocks, Winter Wheat and Canola Seedings, and Cotton Ginnings reports, those reports will not be released on January 11, 2019 as originally scheduled, even if funding is restored before that date,”​ as per an agency statement​.

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Shuttered governmental agencies causes headaches for tracking US ag data © GettyImages/cooperr007

Only when funding has been restored will the date of all such releases be determined and made public, added the USDA.

Similarly, no new Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), Economic Research Service (ERS) or global agricultural information network (GAIN) reports will be published until federal funding is reinstated.

What’s still open?

The select sections within the FDA that continue during the shutdown relate to critical services include the public health core functions that handle and respond to emergencies such as monitoring for and quickly responding to outbreaks related to foodborne illness and the flu, supporting high-risk food and medical product recalls when products endanger consumers and patients.

The FDA will continue, “pursuing civil investigations when we believe public health is imminently at risk and pursuing criminal investigations, screening the food and medical products that are imported to the US to protect consumers and patients from harmful products, and addressing other critical public health issues that involve imminent threats to the safety of human life.”

“Mission critical surveillance for significant safety concerns with medical devices and other medical products will also continue,”​ according to the FDA.

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© GettyImages/huePhotography

At the USDA, activities that continue despite the funding situation include inspections of meat, poultry and processed eggs; grain and commodity inspections; checking for import and export activities related to potential pests; maintenance of some research measurements and related infrastructure along with care for plants and animals involved with agricultural research, the department said.

Agricultural research is on hold, other than that related to care of specimens.

Payments for the market facilitation program​ established to provide pay producers seeing export challenges from ongoing trade uncertainty also will continue – but only for producers who have already certified their production with the Farm Service Agency, the USDA said.

However, the deadline on production certification, originally set for January 15, has been extended.

“The Market Facilitation Program has been making payments directly to farmers who have suffered trade damage,”​ said Sonny Perdue, secretary of agriculture, in a release. “Using existing funds, we were able to keep FSA offices open as long as possible, but unfortunately had to close them when funding ran out.”

“We will therefore extend the application deadline for a period of time equal to the number of business days FSA offices were closed, once the government shutdown ends,”​ he added. 

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