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Letter From The Editor: The First

Ten days ago, we kicked over a hornet’s nest by passing on a solid report suggesting the Obama Administration planned to use its newly sought “consolidation authority” to put all federal food safety functions under one roof.

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Most hearing about Obama wanting “consolidation authority” heard about how it would be used to merge the government’s half dozen trade and business agencies to help spur some badly needed job creation in this country.

But as it was all rolled out, veteran journalist Jerry Hagstrom managed to put the No. 2 guy at the Executive Office of Management and Budget on record, saying food safety would be next up for consolidation. In his subscriber news service, The Hagstrom Report, he shared that with his readers and so did this little Internet-recognized news site.

Your fearless editor was a little surprised at how our readership wanted to instantly get into the details of any possible consolidation.  Among the Obama Administration’s problems, I think, is it suffers from some attention deficit disorder.  Can it stay focused on consolidation long enough to dislodge it from this Congress?

Instead, our readers have been taking this very seriously and I have reason to believe their concerns are already being felt in Washington, D.C.  I’ve had some of those “off the record” contacts from people back there who ordinarily would not take my phone calls.

Anyway, it all got me to wondering, who was first to push a single federal food safety agency? I wanted to look at the modern era, once the current make up existed.

Not surprisingly, I think the point in history we are looking for occurred after an outbreak and the person was a liberal New York Democrat.

In August 1971, after two cases of Bon Vivant and Campbell’s soups containing botulin, a toxin causing botulism in humans, were shipped, U.S. Rep. Benjamin S. Rosenthal, D-NY, announced he was introducing a bill to create a single new agency to enforce federal food safety laws.

Rosenthal was a liberal Democrat who was one of the era’s best-known consumer advocates.  He worked with Ralph Nader and spearheaded a meat boycott for the purpose of bringing prices down so more people could add beef, pork, and chicken to their diets.  

Poison soup reaching the consumer market sent Rosenthal into action.  He wanted a single agency to take over the food safety duties still performed by USDA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Rosenthal charged those agencies were incapable of protecting the public from unsafe food because they lacked focus.  He said both were “seriously derelict” in their handling of the toxic soups. He was upset because FDA had not inspected the Bon Vivant plant in four years.

This was far from the first time that Rosenthal would try and strike a blow for the consumer.   He’d long sought the creation of a consumer department. 

Rosenthal was one of the early opponents to the Vietnam War, and his interest drifted to the military and defense area as time marched on. President Gerald Ford, who had served in the House with Rosenthal, called on him for foreign policy advice.

As he ended two decades of congressional service in 1983, Rosenthal passed way.

In the 41 years since 1971 when Rosenthal first took up the single federal food agency crusade, it really cannot be said that anyone has come any closer than he did. 

Botulism in a soup can killed one person and sent Rosenthal on a mission that remains uncompleted.

If, and I think it’s a big if, Congress gives the President the power to organize the executive branch as he wants, subject only to an up or down vote, the food safety community had better be ready. It is always wise to be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.

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Soup can and inspector photos from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

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