How the Government Shutdown Affects Eaters, Growers, and Farmers

In Food Policy This Week: 5 News Bites

A roundup of news clippings we're reading that affect the way we eat.


Photograph: KAZ Vorpal on Flickr

As the government shutdown enters its second week, many nutrition and agriculture programs are feeling its impact. Here are a few ways that the food world is affected by furloughs and restricted funding.

Nutrition Programs

The Supplemental Nutrition Program, or food stamps program, will continue operating. Congress's Recovery Act provides funding through the end of October. After that date, benefits may vary from state to state.

The Women, Infants and Children program (WIC), which provides assistance to mothers and pregnant women seeking healthy food for their families, will not operate during the shutdown. The $6 billion program can be partially funded at the state level, but many states may have to turn families away after a matter of days or weeks.

Food Inspection

The Food Safety and Inspection Service will keep 87% of their staff working during the shutdown, ensuring that food in grocery stores will remain safe to eat. However, the majority of employees at the Food and Drug Administration—which oversees inspection of 80% of America's food—are furloughed. Meat inspectors are among the few types of inspectors who will be at work during the shutdown. While the short-term effects of the furloughs will likely have little affect on food safety, a longer shutdown could have more serious consequences.

USDA Databases and Website

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's bleak website homepage is a stark representation of the shutdown's impact on the government organization. The USDA closed its communication office, meaning that consumers can't access the organization's experts to ask questions about food safety and inspection. USDA databases are also blacked out, restricting access for students, farmers, policymakers, and others who would seek historical information on US agriculture. Notably, the USDA's monthly crop report has been delayed by the shutdown. The crop report affects commodity prices around the world.

As the shutdown continues, impact on food and agriculture programs will likely become more dire. We'll keep you update on the latest in the coming weeks.

About the Author: Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her other work can be found at her website, and you can follow her on Twitter @leahjdouglas.