While many thousands of federal employees are furloughed because of the government shutdown that began Oct. 1, border officials in Nogales, Ariz., were still clearing loads of produce coming into the U.S., and fee-based quality inspections were being carried out by Arizona state officials.
“It is business as usual in terms of processing trucks and people,” said Allison Moore, communications director of the Nogales, Ariz.-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas. Moore said U.S. Customs and the Food and Drug Administration officials were covering all the lanes of entry. “We haven’t seen any delays at this point.”
The Arizona Department of Agriculture carries out quality inspections for the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the border, and Moore said that because the inspections are user-fee based, there has been no change in the pace of inspections at the border, whether or not those inspections were required to comply with U.S. marketing orders or called voluntarily by handlers.
Likewise, fee-based inspections of growers mandated by the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement have not been interrupted.
“It doesn’t have an impact on our program or the way we go about doing it,” said Scott Horsfall, chief executive officer of Sacramento-based California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, All the auditors who conduct grower inspections are employees of the state of California and not affected by the federal shutdown, he said.
The shutdown has not impeded exports of apples and pears, said Chris Schlect, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima, Wash. Schlect said an indirect effect of shuttering federal agencies has been the cancellation of meetings important to trade negotiations, he said.
“We are eager to have a meeting in China of plant quarantine officials from the two countries, but that is a little under a cloud until they can get this thing resolved,” Schlect said.
FDA laboratories are staffed with a skeleton crew and only working on food samples that may be an imminent food safety risk, said David Gombas, senior vice president of food safety and technology for United Fresh Produce Association in Washington, D.C.
“What that means is that routine surveillance samples that FDA takes from retail are not getting done,” Gombas said Oct. 15.