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Letter to Speaker John Boehner - Republican's Government Shutdown Endangers Public Health


Location: Washington, DC

October 10, 2013

The Honorable John Boehner
Speaker of the House
United States House of Representatives
H-232 The Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Speaker Boehner:

We write to bring to your attention the ongoing foodborne Salmonella outbreak, a particularly noteworthy example of how the continued government shutdown endangers the health of the American public by limiting the ability of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and other key federal public health agencies to fulfill their missions.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) -- the federal entity responsible for conducting routine inspections of meat, poultry, and egg products to ensure the safety of these goods -- issued an alert citing concerns that Foster Farms and other brand chicken produced at Foster Farms plants are the likely source of a recent Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak. The outbreak has caused an estimated 278 illnesses in 17 states. According to the CDC, the outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg are resistant to several commonly-prescribed antibiotics, and 42% of persons infected with these strains have been hospitalized.

Each year, foodborne diseases make one in six, or 48 million, Americans sick. CDC works in collaboration with the FDA and FSIS to ensure the safety of the nation's food supply. CDC is responsible for monitoring foodborne illness and other outbreaks in order to prevent and control the spread of disease.

However, the government shutdown has resulted in 68% of CDC staff being furloughed. Among these individuals are CDC personnel who staff CDC's national laboratory network (PulseNet) that connects cases of foodborne illness -- like those caused by this strain of Salmonella -- to detect and define outbreaks. The agency was also forced to furlough staff that monitor other disease outbreaks and support state and local health departments' disease prevention efforts. Although some of CDC's disease surveillance staff have been recalled in the wake of the outbreak, thousands of important agency experts remain furloughed. The FDA has also been forced to furlough key staff responsible for establishment inspections and compliance and enforcement -- increasing public safety risks.

We are deeply concerned about the impact of the federal government shutdown on CDC and FDA efforts to prevent and eliminate disease outbreaks. We urge you to allow a vote on a clean bill to reopen the entire federal government immediately.


Henry A. Waxman
Ranking Member

Frank Pallone, Jr.
Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Health

Diana DeGette
Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

cc: The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
Democratic Leader

The Honorable Fred Upton
Committee on Energy and Commerce

The Honorable Joe Pitts
Subcommittee on Health
Committee on Energy and Commerce

The Honorable Tim Murphy
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
Committee on Energy and Commerce

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