Following congressional failure to establish a budget by the end of the fiscal year, a range of federal government services were forced to shut down, leaving an estimated 800,000 workers without pay.
President Barack Obama reassured the nation that work was being done to restore services and called on Congress to fulfill its budgetary responsibilities.
“This shutdown was completely preventable. It should not have happened. And the House of Representatives can end it as soon as it follows the Senate’s lead, and funds your work in the United States Government without trying to attach highly controversial and partisan measures in the process,” the president said.
For agriculture, the shutdown meant a partial closure of government services and uncertainty regarding availability.
According to CNN data, furloughed workers through the USDA included 424 employees from the Agricultural Marketing Service, 1,218 from the Food Safety and Inspection Service, 1,192 from Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, 215 from Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, 6,190 from Research, Education and Economics, 430 from the Risk Management Agency, and 4,677 from Rural Development.
For the Department of Health and Human Services, the shutdown meant an end to many of the food safety operations performed by the Food and Drug Administration.
“FDA will be unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition, and cosmetics activities. FDA will also have to cease safety activities such as routine establishment inspections, some compliance and enforcement activities, monitoring of imports, notification programs (e.g., food contact substances, infant formula), and the majority of the laboratory research necessary to inform public health decision-making,” the deparment said.
The FDA will continue operating in a limited capacity, carrying out select operations to handle emergencies, high-risk recalls, civil and criminal investigations and import entry review.
In the private sector, uncertainty played a significant role as well, as the overall impact of the shutdown remained unclear, explained Tom O’Brien, the Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) Washington, D.C. representative.
“Determining the impact of the government shutdown is a complicated exercise. Whether or not a function of the federal government is continuing depends on where it gets its funding and whether or not the service is considered essential,” O’Brien said.
“Even where government services remain available, the funding dispute may still cause service interruptions or delays. Customs and borders remain open, but the shutdown may nevertheless cause delays in entry.”
Reports from exporters indicated that although delays could be possible, no significant impact had yet been felt.
Leo Holt of shipping company Holt Logistics confirmed that U.S. Customs and Border Protection remained available at the ports.
“CBP uniformed personnel are exempt from the furlough caused by the shutdown,” he said.
“It is correct that the USDA site is down at the moment which might impact certain issues, however, the USDA Identifier is on board.
“We are confident that cooler heads will prevail in this issue and this will resolve itself promptly.”
Availability of USDA staff at Delaware’s Port of Wilmington was also confirmed by Thomas Keefer, deputy executive director of marketing and trade development.
He said no impact had been felt at the port, North America’s main entryway for fresh produce.