Gottheimer Calls for End to FDA Shutdown to Safeguard Food, Reinstate Inspections for North Jersey Families

Jan 14, 2019
Press

Doctors, Parents Concerned Over End to Food Inspections; Counties and States May Help Inspect Food to Help Protect Families; Gottheimer Speaks with FDA Commissioner Gottlieb


Above: Gottheimer discusses the damage of the shutdown on public health. (left to right) State Senator Loretta Weinberg, Holy Name Chief of Infectious Disease Dr. Suraj Saggar, Congressman Josh Gottheimer, and Teaneck Council Member Jim Dunleavy

Today, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5), concerned doctors, and parents discussed their concern over the shutdown’s impact on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and their inspections, many of which have been canceled. On Wednesday, NBC News reported that many food safety inspections at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have been halted due to the shutdown.

The FDA is in charge of inspecting roughly eighty percent of our food supply. Yet, forty-one percent of the FDA’s 17,000 employees are currently furloughed when they could and should be on the job, inspecting the lettuce, the cereal, the ice cream Americans bring into their homes every day. According to the FDA, the agency has massively cut back on food safety inspections, on everything from eggs to dairy to vegetables, a health and safety risk for every American and every New Jersey family.

In discussing the shutdown recently, the FDA Commissioner candidly admitted, “There are important things we are not doing.”

Gottheimer spoke to the FDA Commissioner this morning about involving state and local governments more directly in inspections to help plug the gap during the government shutdown. 

“I’m here at Holy Name Medical Center to discuss another significant, and alarming, impact this shutdown is having on our public health and safety – and that’s the security of our food and the end of many FDA inspections – and steps we can take to help fill the void,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “Just recently we had an e. Coli outbreak in lettuce and now we have no one to inspect lettuce. Earlier this year, more than 100 people got salmonella from their cereal. Who at the FDA is making sure this doesn’t happen again? Without a cop on the beat, the safety of our families at the dinner table is at risk.”

Gottheimer continued, “In the meantime, while we wait for the FDA to fully reopen, I have been in communication with County Executive Jim Tedesco about the possibility of the County Health Department filling the void and conducting food safety inspections here in Bergen County.  I’ve also reached out to the New Jersey State Department of Health and Passaic, Sussex, and Warren Counties to see if and where they can help fill the food safety gap the FDA is currently leaving exposed.  These are one of those moments where we all must pitch in, for the safety of our families. I spoke to Commissioner Gottlieb this morning, and he agreed that it would be very helpful for the states like ours to play a more active role in inspections.”

Gottheimer voted several times over the past week to reopen the government and fund essential agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration.

“One in six Americans come down with foodborne illness every year. This leads to 3,000 deaths every year,” said Dr. Suraj Saggar, DO, Chief of Infectious Disease at Holy Name. “Whether it’s listeria with ice cream, salmonella is cereal, and of course e. Coli and romaine lettuce. We understand this plays havoc with our health.”

“The fact that the FDA is compromising the inspection of our food is a huge concern for everyone, but especially those that are undergoing chemotherapy treatment. Their immune systems are already compromised,” said Closter mother of two Melissa Berry, founder of Cancer Fashionista. “This is just unacceptable in my eyes. I feel like the FDA is our frontline of defense and something needs to be done to rectify the situation.”

Video of the event can be found HERE.

Congressman Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below:

We are in day 24 of a government shutdown — officially the longest in American history — and things, unfortunately, appear to be getting worse, not better. The shutdown is having a real impact on our country – it’s putting the safety of our skies and air passengers at risk … hundreds of thousands of workers have been sidelined without a paycheck … and, because permits and small business loans have been frozen, the shutdown is costing New Jersey  jobs, profits, and economic growth, like those at Alementary, a small business I visited last week.

According to the Wall Street Journal, state highway groups announced that the shutdown could delay the start of new highway, bridge, and other projects, something we certainly can’t afford to do here. In fact, according to a study by S&P, the shutdown has cost the U.S. economy an estimated $3.6 billion – and counting. That’s $1.2 billion for every week of shutdown. Output is now expected to grow at 2.2 percent pace in the first quarter, less than an estimated 3.1 percent growth recorded in 2018.

Today, I’m here at Holy Name Medical Center to discuss another significant, and alarming, impact this shutdown is having on our public health and safety – and that’s the security of our food and the end of many inspections – and steps we can take to help fill the void.  

Before we get to that, I want to be clear, we can end the government shutdown, live up to our values as a country, and have tough borders to help keep our country safe from criminals, terrorists, gang members and drug lords.  

What’s outrageous is that we had a bipartisan deal and it was blocked by extreme obstructionists in the Senate and White House.  These obstructionists are playing games with our food safety, our borders, our air safety, and the ability of businesses to operate.  This is no way to run a government. That’s why I’ve been in meetings and on the phone constantly, with members of both parties, working to find a way forward.  That’s why I have voted multiple times, with Democrats and Republicans, to end this shutdown and reopen government, as has every member of the New Jersey delegation — and will continue to do so this week for the Fifth District.  

We will continue to send legislation opening the government to the Senate with the hope that Senator McConnell will do the right thing, and allow the Senate to vote on it.  As Co-Chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, I will continue to do everything I can, working with both sides, until we end this shutdown, and fully reopen vital agencies like the FDA.   

According to the FDA, the agency has massively cut back on food safety inspections, on everything from eggs to dairy to vegetables, which is a health and safety risk for every American and every New Jersey family. It’s unacceptable.

Given the recent November outbreak of e. Coli in lettuce, and the July outbreak of intestinal parasites in more than 200 people who ate Del Monte vegetable trays, this is a risk we cannot take.    Foodborne illness hits one in six Americans every year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention – that’s 48 million people. We also know that every year, food-borne illnesses kill around 1,300 people in the United States.

Just recently we had an e. Coli outbreak in lettuce and now we have no one to inspect lettuce. Earlier this year, more than 100 people got salmonella from their cereal. Who at the FDA is making sure this doesn’t happen again? A few years ago, three Americans died after contracting listeria from their Blue Bell ice cream. Blue Bell knew they had a problem, but thought it could get away with failing to recall its products. We need the FDA operating fully to protect our families and our food supply.

Without a cop on the beat, the safety of our families at the dinner table is at risk. The FDA is in charge of inspecting roughly eighty percent of our food supply. Yet, forty-one percent of the FDA’s 17,000 employees are currently furloughed when they could and should be on the job, inspecting the lettuce, the cereal, the ice cream you bring into your homes every day. According to FDA Commissioner Gottlieb, the agency performs around 8,400 inspections a year with about 160 inspections a week, 31 percent of which would be labeled high-risk. This month, 99 percent of the country’s non-meat food facilities are not going to get inspected.  Remember the salmonella-contaminated eggs or the recalled Utz Tortilla Chips? Well, here we are, playing roulette with people’s health and safety, because we can’t figure out how to open the government. Commissioner Gottlieb told me that they are looking for states to play a larger role during the shutdown.

In discussing the shutdown, the FDA Commissioner, candidly, admitted, “There are important things we are not doing.”  I don’t ever want to have to hear that again from any federal agency. Ever.

In the meantime, while we wait for the FDA to fully reopen, I have been in communication with County Executive Jim Tedesco about the possibility of the County Health Department filling the void and conducting food safety inspections here in Bergen County.  I’ve also reached out to the New Jersey State Department of Health and Passaic, Sussex, and Warren Counties to see if and where they can help fill the food safety gap the FDA is currently leaving exposed. These are one of those moments where we all must pitch in, for the safety of our families. I spoke to Commissioner Gottlieb this morning, and he agreed that it would be very helpful for the states like ours to play a more active role in inspections.

Concerned fathers and mothers, like Melissa Berry here today, and Dr. Suraj Saggar, a Holy Name medical expert in infectious diseases, both know all too well the risks of sidelining inspectors. We should not have to fear for our children because the government is playing shutdown politics. Doctors should not have to tell us that a government shutdown could literally kill us.

I just don’t understand how people every day figure out how to work together to get things done, yet, too many Washington politicians can’t even sit in a room together and work things out.

I will continue to stand with parents like Melissa Berry who faces these very real fears and concerns. I’ll continue to stand with our local businesses that can’t open because permits are being held up or all of those businesses whose SBA loans are stuck in. I’ll continue to stand with workers in my District who have reached out to me because they can no longer pay their mortgage. I’ll continue to stand with our local farmers who have reached out to me about the loss of USDA support directly affecting their ability to earn a living. Enough is enough.

That’s why I will continue to sit down and work with Democrats and Republicans to find a way to open up our government and do everything we can to address food safety concerns and all of the effects this shutdown is having on our safety and our economy. I came to Congress: to work with anyone for the good of the Fifth District.  I will continue to be your voice on these issues.

Thank you and may God continue to bless and watch over the United States of America, and all of those who protect us here at home and around the world.

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