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Letter From The Editor: The Bell

Opinion

This past week, Republicans came to the realization that Mitt Romney could be elected President of the United States, and it dawned on Democrats that President Obama could lose.

So reported Mark Evan Halperin, senior political analyst for Time and author of the magazine’s “The Page” website. For me, the report caused a little bell to go off in my head — time to start paying attention to Romney.

By that I mean we’ve all filled our heads with all things Obama when it comes to food safety.  We’ve been here for his appointments and his policies. We know all of them because we’ve been reporting on them in real time.

But I know very little about Romney. I know he was Governor of Massachusetts, but personally I have to admit I pay more attention to El Paso County, Colorado that I do the Commonwealth. (Hey, they are about the same size.)

Actually, we wondered what happened to Romney after the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. That is my strongest impression of him, Mormon Utah had to right the early financial scandal and Romney was brought in to make things right and go on to run the almost perfect Winter games, leaving a $40 million surplus on the table when he left.

But when he went back East, it was like they’d put him in witness protection. I just realized we do not have a clue about what his time on Boston’s Beacon Hill means for whom he might appoint to federal food safety posts or his approach to those policies.

Frankly, when you get down to talking about who might be in line as the next Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food Safety, you are too far down in the weeds for most Presidential campaigns.

Just think about how long it took President Obama to nominate Dr. Elisabeth Hagen as food safety under secretary, and she was front and center as USDA’s chief medical officer.

But that does not mean we should not try and figure out where a President-elect Romney might go. Usually, that means looking back at where they’ve been.

During his four years governing the Commonwealth, Massachusetts experienced at least 25 outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. In most, Massachusetts was one of several states involved.  In some involving Norovirus and one involving chemical contamination of school lunches, the Bay State was alone.

We’ll be going through these to see if anything stands out in how the Romney administration handled those food safety challenges.

In addition to how a candidate handled past challenges, there are always reasons why financial supporters come forward.

It’s really hard to make definitive conclusions from campaign contributions because they’ve gotten so complicated with campaign and independent expenditure accounts. However, I think there is evidence that agribusiness — if not the food industry — is tilting toward Romney and away from Obama.

The data I was looking only went up through the end of April, so don’t hold me on that one. I was surprised by the trend because of I’ve been under the impression agribusiness supported Obama in 2008 and because I would not expect to see the tilt away until at least after the 2012 Farm Bill is signed.

All of which is just another way of saying, we have some work to do to give our readers some advance warning of what might be coming. The best bet is Obama and Romney are dead even now and there are still close to five months to go before this is all over.

It’s a good thing the bell rang when it did because we can use the time.

© Food Safety News