While the government shutdown has spurred much discussion over the fate of federal food surveillance, the agriculture industry may soon feel the biggest impact from furloughs at another federal agency: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In the 10 days since the shutdown went into effect, millions of dollars of imported agricultural chemicals have been stuck at U.S. ports because EPA personnel are not on hand to approve them for entry.
If the shutdown persists for weeks or months, the issue could have a much bigger impact on the food supply than furloughs at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said Edward Ruckert, an agriculture and trade attorney at McDermott Will & Emery in Washington, D.C.
The list of chemicals being barred from entry includes pesticides, experimental samples of chemicals for EPA testing, and active ingredients intended to be formulated into products sold to farmers. The longer the supplies remain stuck in port warehouses or held on shipping freighters, the lower the supplies run for use in the U.S., said Dr. Ray McAllister, senior director of regulatory policy at CropLife America, the trade organization representing agricultural chemical manufacturers.
At the same time, shipping containers may receive fines for staying in port, unable to unload cargo that requires paperwork to be processed by EPA employees.
The problem stems from the fact that EPA must approve all imported agricultural chemicals for entry to the U.S. with a “Notice of Arrival” form. According to ABC News, however, EPA has furloughed approximately 96 percent of its staff in the shutdown, meaning that there is no one available in regional offices to approve chemical imports. (By comparison, FDA and CDC have furloughed about 45 and 68 percent of their employees, respectively.)
“Manufacturers face difficult decisions regarding shipments about to be sent or already en route, which could also be held up at ports of entry,” McAllister wrote in a press statement. “It may not take long for the bottlenecks to have an effect on supplies of crop-protection products for agriculture, now and in the coming growing season.”
Right now, the major inconvenience has fallen on chemical manufacturers and importers, and farmers likely won’t see the impact unless the shutdown lasts a while longer, Ruckert said.
Asked about the impact if the shutdown persists for months, Ruckert told Food Safety News the bottleneck could cause a shortage of chemicals and “significant problems,” such as a rise in the prices of domestically produced chemicals for farmers.
CropLife America did not immediately have statistics available on the percentage of agricultural chemicals used in the U.S. that are imported versus those domestically produced.
Applications for new agricultural chemicals are also on hold until Congress passes its budget, as well as applications for any new uses of existing products, Ruckert added.
When it comes to pesticides and other agricultural chemicals, Ruckert said the one functional element is for emergency exemptions, such as if states need approval to use a pesticide or other chemical.© Food Safety News