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Happy New Year, But It’s Likely To Be More of the Same

An extra year on the old farm bill, and continued slicing and dicing to get over the “fiscal cliff.” If you liked the way 2012 ended, you will love 2013.

It’s like to be more of the same, small ball. Small deals made in time to just get by. Surely we can do better, and on that rare occasion we might. But most of the time it will be a slog fest because national government remains divided.

Two years ago on Jan. 4, 2011, President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act into law. But White House’s own Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has yet to release the final food safety rules.

OMB’s elite shop of regulation reviewers, which has allowed thousands of pages of regulations to be published since the President was re-elected, just does not seem to be getting around to food safety. Advocates have gone to court to bust them loose, and the government just wants the whole thing to get away.

Until those rules are released, it is impossible to tell how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to deal with the country’s fresh produce problem or extend its reach to better regulate imported food. Until FDA and its supporters can better explain what the FSMA is trying to accomplish, the more difficult it is for anybody to lobby for more funding to get it down.

In other words, the delay has damaged food safety in the past year, and only direct action in 2013 can restore it to where it should be going two years after a bipartisan Congress passed FSMA.

Besides the regulatory hold-ups last year involving FDA, food safety suffered from a diminished capacity at USDA with the demise of the Microbiological Data Program, ending about 80 percent of the public pathogen testing in the U.S., and the cutback on on-site evaluations of foreign meat inspection programs.

Will USDA reconsider these questionable actions in 2013 or wait for the inevitable mass causality event to follow?

FDA’s challenge in 2013 will be to keep its focus on FSMA at a time when there are plenty of other demands for its time. The food movement is seeking a series of changes to government food labeling policies, including front-of-package label formatting, naming “added sugars” as a separate ingredient, defining “natural” and deciding what “whole grain” means.

They’d also like to see government force fast-food restaurant to follow rules for menu labeling, and they want nutritional standards for so-called “competitive foods” sold in school vending machines and retail stores.

FDA could also give final approval to that fast-growing genetically-engineered salmon to be grown in Panama and then sold for human consumption around the world. How should it be labeled?

Food safety arguments will also be part of the trade dispute we are having with Russia over ractopamine, which some are calling the next chlorine chicken dispute. Russia might tempter its aggressive trade policies as the year goes on with the February 2014 Winter Olympics being held in Sochi.

While national government is divided, more state capitals found themselves with unified one-party control after last November’s election than at any time in recent history. In 37 states, the governor and legislative majorities are from the same political party.

In 24 states, the Republicans hold all the cards, while the Democrats do in 13. Split government exists in 12 other states, and Nebraska has a nonpartisan unicameral.

State government experts are predicting as a result the states will lurch from left to right with all sorts of regulations coming in for review wherever the GOP in control. While Democrats picked up about 150 legislative seats, out of the near 6,000 that exist in the country, two thirds of that gain came in just one state—New Hampshire where the State House of Representatives has 400 members.

© Food Safety News
  • Richard Raymond

    Nebraska’s Unicameral may be “non-partisan” in name, but it is very Republican in registration–and has been for years. The only real difference is that in a primary, you may have two Dems or two Reps running against each other, instead of a D vs. an R. 

  • http://twitter.com/TomWeschler Tom Weschler

    I took a bit of a different approach to my review of food safety as we enter 2013. I don’t think it is as bad as is being reported. http://www.foodsafetymagazine.com/blog/food-safetyis-it-as-bad-as-reported/