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Food Safety News

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Publisher’s Platform: Mr. Bill Goes to Washington

Honestly, I have lost track of how often I have done the back and forth to “the other Washington” over the last several years.

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For the longest time (when the Republicans held the House and Senate) nothing moved on food safety issues and walking the halls of the House and Senate was beside the point.

That changed with the spinach E. coli outbreak of 2006 that sickened over 200 and killed five; followed by lettuce E. coli outbreaks in the Midwest and Northeast that made hundreds ill.

The following April, following a Salmonella peanut butter outbreak that left over 750 sickened, I brought three families to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee.

The hearing was held on my youngest daughter’s birthday (which I had forgotten about), yet we turned the flight to D.C., the three hour hearing and a trip to the zoo into something she still remembers.

The following year, after other outbreaks, the Subcommittee even asked me to testify.

Then there was the Peanut Corporation of America Salmonella outbreak in 2009 that sickened 700 and killed at least nine.  I was at that Subcommittee hearing, too, watching Stewart Parnell take the 5th and seeing my clients testify again.

That was followed by a E. coli cookie dough outbreak that sickened 80.  Of course, with another outbreak in 2010, this time Salmonella in eggs sickening 1,800 and causing the recall of 500,000,000 eggs, the Subcommittee had even more villains and more victims (those, too, my clients).

From these tragedies came H.B. 2749 and S. 510 (with the Tester/Hagen Amendment) which is now H.B. 3082 and heading this next week to the Senate for a vote.

I hope to be there to see it happen.  And to cut my Christmas vacation short to watch  President Obama sign the bill into law.

Is this bill perfect?  No, but it is a start to try to stem the tide of large-scale outbreaks that cost our economy billions of dollars and families incalculable pain and suffering.

This is not the end, but the beginning of the end.

© Food Safety News
  • AND, Bill, not one of the outbreaks you listed would have been altered by any of the “food safety” legislation you support.
    Rather, in every case (except the Peanut Corporation of America where the causes were corporate malfeasance and regulatory nonfeasance), the companies involved already exceeded EVERY NEW REQUIREMENT in the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
    More fundamentally, the FSMA fails to address the 2 greatest threats to food safety in America–the inept performance of the FDA and the FSIS. Instead, The FSMA does the opposite by providing a monumental CYA for the FDA by ratifying the FDA’s overweening interpretation of its authority while completely ignoring the poor performance of the FSIS.
    In addition, the much ballyhooed new authority for mandatory recall would be granted without any accountability for its misuse. The FDA will be able to continue to devastate segments of American agriculture, as it did in the 2006 spinach and 2008 tomato/pepper advisory misfeasance and 2010 shell egg nonfeasance, without any legal responsibility to those it has injured. (BTW, Bill, how come the American Trial Lawyers aren’t up in arms over that limitation of the rights of injured parties to redress?)
    Once again, Bill, I challenge you to bring your fellow supporters of this type of regulatory approach to food safety from the Make Our Food Safe coalition to NC to debate the actual provisions and foreseeable impacts of the legislation y’all advocate. Those of us in NC’s local, healthy food movement and large conventional food system would love the opportunity to see which ideas would survive the bright light of actual public debate.
    In the meantime, I’ll continue to work full-time to thwart the foolishness of the FSMA, hopefully by its defeat.

  • Michael Bulger

    FSMA contains provisions for the improvement of outbreak identification and tracking which could have lessened the extent of the outbreaks. It contains mandatory recall which could have accelerated the process whereby the peanut butter could have left the shelves of grocers in Minnesota. It contains increased inspection frequency requirements which could have identified contamination through testing. It contains an increase in field staff to carry out inspections. It contains inspection of records power which could have resulted in persistent contamination being identified and dealt with prior to outbreaks.
    These are but a few of the many, many ways in which the FSMA could have prevented or mitigated the impacts of these major outbreaks.
    Those of us who have been following FSN are used to your habitual misrepresentation of reality, Harry. I only ask that you do not purport to represent North Carolina. There are some well-educated, discerning and intelligent people in that state.

  • Hmm, Harry – somewhere along the line I thought you were in favor of the bill with the Tester/Hagen Amendment? Perhaps I misunderstood, or you simply where against ANY legislation and thought Tester/Hagen (supported by many small ag folks) would derail the entire bill? Well, it did not.
    I do agree with you that mandatory recall authority is not necessary. But, in a democracy, compromise is necessary, I am afraid. We do not live in a democracy of one – like North Korea.
    I also agree that having HACCP will not necessarily make food safer. However, having a system that helps businesses focus on food safety risks is better than having no system at all. Having traceback in the system will hold those accountable who allowed the poison in the system in the first place.
    Regarding the outbreaks I mentioned. In my opinion (and I know more about those outbreaks than anyone in the US), had those plants – ALL large scale, high risk facilities – been inspected more often, those outbreaks may well have not occurred.
    Had the CDC and state health departments coordinated their investigations better, as S. 510 contemplates, I know that these outbreaks would have been caught earlier and less people would have been sickened.
    This bill is not perfect – there will be more work to do. Funding is a big issue. Will the Tester/Hagan Amendment have the desired impact? Can we encourage safe, small, sustainable local agriculture and hold big ag accountable? I also agree with you that with FDA and CDC funding, comes the need for accountability. All of this I am committed to still work on (with or without you) and is why I am going to DC this week.
    Doing nothing or killing the bill is not an option for me. Happy Holiday Harry to you and yours.

  • AND, Bill, not one of the outbreaks you listed would have been altered by any of the “food safety” legislation you support.
    Rather, in every case (except the Peanut Corporation of America where the causes were corporate malfeasance and regulatory nonfeasance), the companies involved already exceeded EVERY NEW REQUIREMENT in the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
    More fundamentally, the FSMA fails to address the 2 greatest threats to food safety in America–the inept performance of the FDA and the FSIS. Instead, The FSMA does the opposite by providing a monumental CYA for the FDA by ratifying the FDA’s overweening interpretation of its authority while completely ignoring the poor performance of the FSIS.
    In addition, the much ballyhooed new authority for mandatory recall would be granted without any accountability for its misuse. The FDA will be able to continue to devastate segments of American agriculture, as it did in the 2006 spinach and 2008 tomato/pepper advisory misfeasance and 2010 shell egg nonfeasance, without any legal responsibility to those it has injured. (BTW, Bill, how come the American Trial Lawyers aren’t up in arms over that limitation of the rights of injured parties to redress?)
    Once again, Bill, I challenge you to bring your fellow supporters of this type of regulatory approach to food safety from the Make Our Food Safe coalition to NC to debate the actual provisions and foreseeable impacts of the legislation y’all advocate. Those of us in NC’s local, healthy food movement and large conventional food system would love the opportunity to see which ideas would survive the bright light of actual public debate.
    In the meantime, I’ll continue to work full-time to thwart the foolishness of the FSMA, hopefully by its defeat.

  • Once again, Michael Bulger, uses generalizations and red herrings to hide the truth under a false appearance.
    I commented on the specific cases Bill Marler cited yet Bulger didn’t give any examples about how those cases would have been improved save a generalization about the Peanut Corporation of America outbreak. His statement about getting peanut butter off the shelves in Minnesota is ludicrous because no state walks the food safety talk any better that Minnesota. Plus, I had already pointed out that the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) involved corporate malfeasance. So, now, I’ll just remind everyone that hearings before Congress documented that Nestle quit doing business with PCA (thereby saving its customers) because of the third party inspection it received yet the State of Georgia and the FDA for which it conducted an inspection didn’t.
    Bulger then threw out 2 red herrings in a single sentence: “Those of us who have been following FSN are used to your habitual misrepresentation of reality, Harry. I only ask that you do not purport to represent North Carolina.”
    Bulger doesn’t offer any example of either behavior; rather, he uses a well-known, sneaky debating technique that connotes that I have claimed to represent North Carolina which I never have. I might just as well ask, “Michael, have you quit beating your girlfriend?”
    For anyone who wants to know what I have actually written and done, a simple web search of my name, “Harry Hamil,” will quickly give more info than even a parent would read.
    Among other things, it will reveal that just 9 days ago, I had the honor of being named Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s (CFSA) “2010 Activist of the Year” (http://hartkeisonline.com/heroes-of-sustainable-agriculture/s-510-opponent-wins-activist-award-at-sustainable-agriculture-conference/).

  • Dear Bill,
    I am honored by your full and thoughtful reply to my comment. It feels like the dialogue may have renewed.
    Would that the FSMA had arisen from a full consideration of this thorny issue by all of the stakeholders. I hope one can occur after the close of the 111th Congress. Unfortunately, the demonizing of the last few weeks will probably preclude that for a while.
    It appears to me that you may have confused my support for the original Tester-Hagan (T-H) amendments with the idea that I would support the FSMA IF T-H were included. The second cannot be deduced from the first. More importantly, the T-H I supported is NOT part of this version of the FSMA.
    Most importantly, all along, I have striven to perceive what was the actual reality of the various versions of the FSMA; so I could more accurately understand what would be its likely impacts. It took over a year of full-time work for me to come to believe that I had a sold grasp of just the first 8 sections of the FSMA. And my understanding of them continues to evolve every day.
    In the last couple of months of that process, I realized that the FSMA is a fundamentally flawed approach to regulating food safety and I could not support what would clearly come out of the political process. And I would not be me, if I didn’t do my best to defeat it.
    But, I do not pray for that outcome, Bill. Like I’m sure you do, I pray that whichever outcome in the Senate will be what best for the American people shall be what occurs.

  • Once again, Michael Bulger, uses generalizations and red herrings to hide the truth under a false appearance.
    I commented on the specific cases Bill Marler cited yet Bulger didn’t give any examples about how those cases would have been improved save a generalization about the Peanut Corporation of America outbreak. His statement about getting peanut butter off the shelves in Minnesota is ludicrous because no state walks the food safety talk any better that Minnesota. Plus, I had already pointed out that the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) involved corporate malfeasance. So, now, I’ll just remind everyone that hearings before Congress documented that Nestle quit doing business with PCA (thereby saving its customers) because of the third party inspection it received yet the State of Georgia and the FDA for which it conducted an inspection didn’t.
    Bulger then threw out 2 red herrings in a single sentence: “Those of us who have been following FSN are used to your habitual misrepresentation of reality, Harry. I only ask that you do not purport to represent North Carolina.”
    Bulger doesn’t offer any example of either behavior; rather, he uses a well-known, sneaky debating technique that connotes that I have claimed to represent North Carolina which I never have. I might just as well ask, “Michael, have you quit beating your girlfriend?”
    For anyone who wants to know what I have actually written and done, a simple web search of my name, “Harry Hamil,” will quickly give more info than even a parent would read.
    Among other things, it will reveal that just 9 days ago, I had the honor of being named Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s (CFSA) “2010 Activist of the Year” (http://hartkeisonline.com/heroes-of-sustainable-agriculture/s-510-opponent-wins-activist-award-at-sustainable-agriculture-conference/).

  • Dear Bill,
    I am honored by your full and thoughtful reply to my comment. It feels like the dialogue may have renewed.
    Would that the FSMA had arisen from a full consideration of this thorny issue by all of the stakeholders. I hope one can occur after the close of the 111th Congress. Unfortunately, the demonizing of the last few weeks will probably preclude that for a while.
    It appears to me that you may have confused my support for the original Tester-Hagan (T-H) amendments with the idea that I would support the FSMA IF T-H were included. The second cannot be deduced from the first. More importantly, the T-H I supported is NOT part of this version of the FSMA.
    Most importantly, all along, I have striven to perceive what was the actual reality of the various versions of the FSMA; so I could more accurately understand what would be its likely impacts. It took over a year of full-time work for me to come to believe that I had a sold grasp of just the first 8 sections of the FSMA. And my understanding of them continues to evolve every day.
    In the last couple of months of that process, I realized that the FSMA is a fundamentally flawed approach to regulating food safety and I could not support what would clearly come out of the political process. And I would not be me, if I didn’t do my best to defeat it.
    But, I do not pray for that outcome, Bill. Like I’m sure you do, I pray that whichever outcome in the Senate will be what best for the American people shall be what occurs.

  • bm

    Mr. Hamil:
    As my digestion system is compromised because of food poisonings I have had in recent years I had to spend 4 days in bed. No one pays me for the lost time and the pain I suffer. But I had a lot of time to pray for the Food Safety Bill to pass and less people will get food poisoning in the future. And Harry, why do you always insist small farms are clean? I could tell stories I have seen with my own eyes, no one would believe me. I hope FDA has some extra time to stop at these places one day too. I haven’t seen through all the years you are fighting against the Food Safety Bill you came up with a solution to help the consumers. Your idea is, everybody goes to a farmers market and spends a lot of money for unidentified food, it just doesn’t work that way. When I see all the pets sniffling on food stands at the farmers markets and their shit around the market grounds, I don’t see where food safety comes in. Why don’t you fight to outlaw pets on farmers markets? This would be a better way to spend your time.
    Thank you Bill Marler for all you time and money you have spent in the last years to make a change happened. I wish I could celebrate with you in Washington this week.
    Brunhilde

  • Michael Bulger

    I should have known better than to assume you’d comprehend my comment. You’re obviously ignorant to the case of Westco Fruit and Nuts. You’re unwilling, or unable, to understand what this bill would implement and how it would fit into the American food system. I’m not surprised. Your research is continually flawed. Your waffling is also disappointing.