While the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the federal government has been moving forward with suspending and rolling back food and agriculture regulations that experts say could have long-term impacts on the country’s food system.
As the agencies have put on hold rules meant to prevent foodborne illnesses and industrial pollution, experts worry that some companies may take advantage of the lull and do less to protect public health and the environment.
In mid-March, the FDA announced that it would temporarily suspend routine domestic facility inspections, even though prior to the suspension, the agency only visits a site only once every 5-7 years. Food Safety News publisher William Marler told Civil Eats the move will only exacerbate food safety issues.
“They do so little [already] that cutting back won’t have an enormous impact, at least not right away,” Marler said. “Now they’ll be doing a poorer job of an already poor job.”
The inspection suspension comes as many are sounding the alarm about the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for food workers across the country, putting the food supply at higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 contamination.
The EPA also announced that it would suspend all enforcement of environmental laws during the coronavirus outbreak, including the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, which regulates the waste from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
CAFOs will also benefit from a proposed overhaul of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which states the USDA’s Farm Service Agency would no longer require an environmental review prior to the approval of loan guarantees for large CAFO operations.
The USDA is continuing to move forward with privatizing meat inspections for poultry and swine, allowing private company employees to replace outside government inspectors at beef slaughter and processing plants like Tyson—as COVID-19 continues to cause plant worker shortages.