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Letter From The Editor: ‘The Experiment’

Choices can be difficult.

Our neighbors down in “The Springs” decided a couple of years ago to nix a tax increase for many things, including keeping the lights on at night.  

Now Colorado Springs, Colorado’s second largest city with a population of 420,000 and a footprint big enough to contain all of Boston, Miami, Minneapolis, and San Francisco, goes without any tax-supported night lighting.

In what they now call “the experiment,” Colorado Springs is going without a lot more than streetlights.   It’s cut cops, firemen, closed parks, ceased normal maintenance and repairs, and parked transit buses.

The experiment that is underway in “the Springs” is to see whether its sales-tax dependent revenue will rebound before doing “less with less,” as they call it, brings about the city’s demise.  It’s going to be close.

It’s a municipal strategy that takes the entirely opposite approach from what New York Mayor Giuliani employed to bring back the Big Apple.  Giuliani did not want to see one broken window; by going dark, “the Springs” is saying: “bring rocks.”

If this just involved one military-dependent mid-sized American city, its decision-making could be laughed off.   Unfortunately, Colorado Springs is not alone.

And when it comes to foodborne illnesses, the first lines of defense are the nearly 1,000 local health departments, which usually rely on cities, counties, and independent districts and the states for funding.

Local health departments, which inspect restaurants and investigate outbreaks, have laid off or left unfilled 23,000 jobs in the last three years, according to the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

Another way of looking at it–three out of four Americans now live in an area with less capacity for food safety than just three years ago.

Local governments, which fund local health departments, cannot print money or put their budgets on a credit card.   

It use to be that the best fiscal conservatives in government made sure local governments that are closest to the people got the tax support they needed to do their jobs.  They took pride in their local communities.

This era of Tea Party politics has brought out people who are not motivated by community pride, but anger.   Why else would you be willing to wreck your own house because of something going on at a distant statehouse or the nation’s capital?

Making people eat at restaurants that no longer undergo inspections is no experiment.  It’s just a mater of time.

© Food Safety News
  • Concerned

    Excellent comments, Mr. Flynn. Maybe ESPN could do a story on this to get the country’s attention as they did with the stadium food.

  • Thanks, Dan. Your essay spurred my thinking.
    My own town took the opposite approach to that of Colorado Springs. It opted for a 23% tax hike AND borrowed from its surplus for a total 32% increase. In addition, to qualify for a federal grant to hire additional firefighters, it committed to over 20% more for 2 years starting in 2 years when the grant runs out because it must keep the extra firefighters for 2 additional years.
    Ironically, I forecast additional funding problems for health departments if S 510 passes.
    S 510 contains zero funding for its most expensive additional regulation–Sec. 105 Standards for Produce Safety. Every farm “producing” or “harvesting” “fruits and vegetables” will need to be inspected. In the 2007 Ag Census, over 2,204,792 farms reported they produced and sold over $1,000 worth of “agricultural products.” Not only was not a dollar allocated to fund enforcement, the CBO estimate didn’t even address it directly. Also, the CBO only estimated $70,000,000 in costs for non-federal government entities though farm inspections are being seen as being done by the states. Thus, S 510 would create huge additional demands on the dollars allocated for food safety.

  • cheryl berenson

    Dan- you are entirely correct- as an MPH student i drink the kool -aid that smaller government is not what America needs, what we need is BETTER government! thanks also for supporting the argument that upstream social determinants are what make or break our health, the “causes of the causes”. cheryl

  • Thanks, Dan. Your essay spurred my thinking.
    My own town took the opposite approach to that of Colorado Springs. It opted for a 23% tax hike AND borrowed from its surplus for a total 32% increase. In addition, to qualify for a federal grant to hire additional firefighters, it committed to over 20% more for 2 years starting in 2 years when the grant runs out because it must keep the extra firefighters for 2 additional years.
    Ironically, I forecast additional funding problems for health departments if S 510 passes.
    S 510 contains zero funding for its most expensive additional regulation–Sec. 105 Standards for Produce Safety. Every farm “producing” or “harvesting” “fruits and vegetables” will need to be inspected. In the 2007 Ag Census, over 2,204,792 farms reported they produced and sold over $1,000 worth of “agricultural products.” Not only was not a dollar allocated to fund enforcement, the CBO estimate didn’t even address it directly. Also, the CBO only estimated $70,000,000 in costs for non-federal government entities though farm inspections are being seen as being done by the states. Thus, S 510 would create huge additional demands on the dollars allocated for food safety.

  • Sec. 105:
    “(B) DETERMINATION BY SECRETARY.— With respect to small and very small businesses that produce and harvest those types of fruits and vegetables that are raw agricultural commodities that the Secretary has determined are low risk and do not present a risk of serious adverse health consequences or death, the Secretary may determine not to include production and harvesting of such fruits and vegetables in such rulemaking, or may modify the applicable requirements of regulations promulgated pursuant to this section.”
    “…the Secretary may determine not to include production and harvesting of such fruits and vegetables in such rulemaking…”
    Section 105 does not mean every farm will need to be inspected.

  • Michael Bulger is absolutely correct. “Not EVERY farm will need to be inspected.” [my emphasis] If a farm grows ONLY fruits and vegetables which the Secretary of HHS determines don’t need standards, then that farm won’t “need to be inspected.”
    How many of the 2,204,792 farms in 2007 Ag census will that exempt?
    Very close to zero of the farms producing local, healthy food, as one of the principles of the local, healthy food movement is growing a broad array of fruits and vegetables.
    In addition, the FDA has already issued guidance documents on leafy greens, tomatoes and melons; so it can’t very well exclude them.
    How many farms that produce food for local consumption don’t produce any leafy greens, tomatoes or melons?
    However many it is, the rest of the 2,204,792 farms will still have to be inspected or it’s just a matter of time until we have another Jack DeCoster shows up.

  • Colorado4

    The latest from Colorado Springs is that is has no environmental health services, relying on El Paso County, which eliminated these services (with the exception of tattoo and piercing parlors, whose owners demanded a fee be imposed for county oversite).
    Apparently restaurants will be inspected by the state, through a contract with the city, but how much in funding I don’t know.
    BTW – Colorado Springs has the highest incidence of food-borne outbreaks in the state, according the Dept. of Public Health and Environment.

  • Michael Bulger is absolutely correct. “Not EVERY farm will need to be inspected.” [my emphasis] If a farm grows ONLY fruits and vegetables which the Secretary of HHS determines don’t need standards, then that farm won’t “need to be inspected.”
    How many of the 2,204,792 farms in 2007 Ag census will that exempt?
    Very close to zero of the farms producing local, healthy food, as one of the principles of the local, healthy food movement is growing a broad array of fruits and vegetables.
    In addition, the FDA has already issued guidance documents on leafy greens, tomatoes and melons; so it can’t very well exclude them.
    How many farms that produce food for local consumption don’t produce any leafy greens, tomatoes or melons?
    However many it is, the rest of the 2,204,792 farms will still have to be inspected or it’s just a matter of time until we have another Jack DeCoster shows up.

  • @Harry:
    ‘‘SEC. 421. TARGETING OF INSPECTION RESOURCES FOR
    DOMESTIC FACILITIES, FOREIGN FACILITIES,
    AND PORTS OF ENTRY; ANNUAL REPORT.”
    ‘‘(C) DOMESTIC NON-HIGH RISK FACILITIES.—The Secretary shall ensure that each domestic facility that is not identified under paragraph (1) as a high-risk facility is inspected—

    ‘‘(E) RELIANCE ON FEDERAL, STATE, OR LOCAL INSPECTIONS.—In meeting the inspection requirements under this subsection for domestic facilities, the Secretary may rely on inspections conducted by other Federal, State, or local agencies under interagency agreement, contract, memoranda of understanding, or other obligation.”
    This is for inspections no less than once during the first 7 years and no less than once every 5 years thereafter.
    You are saying that the CBO estimated this to cost $70,000,000? Where do you see that in the CBO report, Harry?
    The CBO states, “Because of the small number of public-sector entities affected, CBO
    estimates that the costs of mandates in the bill would fall well below the
    intergovernmental threshold ($70 million in 2010, adjusted annually for inflation).”
    The $70 million is the intergovernmental threshold which the CBO estimates the costs to the whole of the non-federal public sector will “FALL WELL BELOW”.
    This number (well below 70 million) will be divided among every public-sector (state, county, city, tribal) inspecting agency (health, agriculture) in the country.