Food safety in Canada could be affected by U.S. federal government shutdown, expert says

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      If you're looking for another reason to buy local, Donald Trump's dispute over border-wall funding may be one. 

      Food inspections in the U.S. have been halted since the partial shutdown began on December 22, 2018.

      Although some FDA food-safety inspectors went back to work without pay today (January 15) to focus on some high-risk foods, it’s unclear when more routine inspections would start up again, the New York Times reports.

      Canada is by far the largest destination for U.S. exports of high-value agricultural products, with a 26.4 percent market share in 2017 and a value of US$16.2 billion, Canadian food expert Sylvain Charlebois said in a statement.

      “More than 44% of our imported fruits and 62% of imported vegetables come from the U.S.,” said Charlebois, who’s a professor food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University’s Faculties of Management and Agriculture and senior director of the institution’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab. “Based on these numbers alone, it is safe to say that food safety governance and practices in the U.S. matter to Canadians.

      “The Canadian agri-food economy is highly vulnerable, especially during the winter months,” he said. “Despite words of reassurance coming from Washington, we do have reason to worry if this stalemate drags on.”

      The U.S. Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service inspects meat, poultry, and processed egg plants, and its inspectors have stayed on the job during the shutdown.

      The high-risk foods that the FDA is focusing on include soft cheeses, seafood, custard-filled bakery products, some fruits and vegetables, and baby formula, according to the New York Times. The publication also reported that the FDA typcially inspects about one-tenth of the 80,000 or so food plants in the United States a year.

      The current gridlock in the U.S. is affecting a fundamental aspect of food safety governance, Charlebois said, with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) losing a vital partner for the time being.

      “Regulators deal with regulators when outbreaks or issues come up,” he said. “Without active agencies in the U.S., it becomes challenging for the CFIA to engage with Americans to resolve issues, and preferably before they happen.”

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