It’s become quite in vogue these days for people to say, “I just don’t follow politics.” It rolls off the tongue the same way “I just don’t watch football” or “I have never seen Star Wars” does — with one part pride and one part glee.
But the thing about politics is that it’s not a sport or a fictional space war — it’s our lives. And the rippling effects of the recent government shutdown highlight just how important “politics” is.
The federal government shutdown, which ran from Dec. 22-Jan. 25, was the longest in U.S. history. And it had massive consequences — it cost the American economy at least $11 billion according to the Congressional Budget Office.
However, maybe the most notable consequence for the confectionery industry was that it led to fewer food recalls. Unfortunately, that wasn’t because the food being produced during that time was safer — it was because there was less oversight. That’s according to the first quarter 2019 Recall Index recently released by Stericycle Expert Solutions.
Specifically, Food and Drug Administration recalls fell 36.5 percent to 99 — the lowest quarter since Q1 2016.
The report says reduced oversight during the shutdown stopped or limited many of the government safety inspections we often take for granted. And even after the shutdown ended, it took several weeks for regulatory agencies to ramp up inspections back to normal levels.
"While it's usually good news for consumers when recall rates decline, the Q1 2019 numbers are misleading," said Chris Harvey, director of recall solutions at Stericycle Expert Solutions. "Fewer inspections mean more potentially dangerous products entered the market unnoticed during this period, which could also have an impact in the months ahead.”
In other words, we’re still feeling the impact.
At first glance, some manufacturers may have been relieved to receive less oversight from the FDA during the shutdown. But anyone with a conscience knows that the oversight isn’t just there to make life more difficult — it’s there to protect consumers. And we are all consumers.
Fewer food inspections can literally lead to death, especially when it comes to undeclared allergens — which remain the No. 1 reason for food recalls. Specifically, under the FDA's watch, undeclared allergens were the top cause of both FDA recalls (38.4 percent) and recalled food units (98.1 percent) during the first quarter of 2019.
So next time you hear someone say “I just don’t follow politics,” remind them that politics doesn't just mean following the 639 candidates vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. It also means literally keeping the food we eat safe.
And if you want to go one step further to impact politics, it never hurts to reach out to your members of Congress. You can find your representatives online here and your senator here.
Trust me, they’re following politics. And we don’t want to let them be the only ones who are.