I needed a vacation badly (so did the subscribers and readers of my blog), as I seem to never be at a loss for something to write about – which is a bad thing for all of us.
I kept busy in 2010 with Stephanie Smith and Cargill, Linda Rivera and Nestle (that one not over yet) and one too many trips between Seattle and Washington D.C. So during my holiday vacation, I only glanced at the headline on Lyndsey Layton’s story in The Washington Post: “Overhaul of food safety laws might not be to GOP’s taste” until after New Year’s. After reading it, I cannot say I am surprised, but disappointment is at risk of setting in. Here are some of the key quotes:
The massive overhaul of food safety laws approved by Congress this week will take years to implement and could be undercut by Republicans who don’t want to fund an expansion of the Food and Drug Administration.
Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, the ranking GOP member on the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the FDA, said the number of cases of food-borne illnesses in the country does not justify the $1.4 billion the new law is estimated to cost over the first five years.
“I would not identify it as something that will necessarily be zeroed out, but it is quite possible it will be scaled back if it is significant overreach,” said Kingston, who is likely to become chairman of the subcommittee when Republicans assume control of the House in January.
“We still have a food supply that’s 99.99 percent safe,” Kingston said in an interview. “No one wants anybody to get sick, and we should always strive to make sure food is safe. But the case for a $1.4 billion expenditure isn’t there.”
Really? Where has Jack been in the last decade? In a hole, under a rock, at a “tea party”?
In a 2010 report by Robert L. Scharff for the Pew Memorial Trust, medical and other costs to victims of foodborne illness amounted to $152,000,000,000 a year. Even considering the new CDC estimates of foodborne disease that came out just before Christmas (48 million people sick, 128,000 hospitalized, and 3,000 dead each year), the Pew Study did not take into account the cost of food recalls, lost sales, loss of reputation, loss of exports, etc. to the businesses that caused or the businesses distributed the contaminated products.
One has only to remember the spinach, peanut butter and egg outbreaks in the last few years to see $100,000,000s in business losses–independent of the $10,000,0000s paid in personal injury settlements and verdicts.
The FDA needs resources–especially inspectors. Spending money to inspect high-risk food manufacturing facilities more than once every several years is spending money wisely. Education, prevention and enforcement are key to saving money in the long-run. Ignoring the problem by simply saying the U.S. food supply is “99.9 percent safe” is heartless, stupid and bad for business.
Giving local, state and federal health departments and regulators the surveillance tools and resources to figure out outbreaks sooner will save lives and make sure that the correct product and manufacturer are targeted so an entire industry is not tainted by the tainted product.
Without leadership in food safety, 2011 may well look to me like many of the years before–more outbreaks, more suffering and more lawsuits. However, I resolve in 2011 to spend even more time in Washington D. C. trying to explain to Jack and his buddies, why it is a bad idea to allow your constituents to be poisoned.
I also resolve to keep pushing the CDC, FDA and FSIS to do better and to spend our money wisely on things that matter. I also resolve to make sure the ideas behind the Tester Amendment (to encourage small Ag) do in fact do that, but also do not compromise food safety.
It looks to be a busy year.
Photos: Marlene Karas for The Washington Post (top) and Ben Garvin for The New York Times (lower)© Food Safety News