Michael Pollan, best-selling author and thought leader of the burgeoning food and agriculture reform movements, warned an audience in San Francisco last week about the implications the Supreme Court’s decision to allow unrestricted campaign contributions to political campaigns could have for food safety.

When asked about the impact the ruling would have on food in America, Pollan simply said the ruling was, “Well, not good…I think that pretty well sums it up.”

“There are moves afoot to strengthen food safety in Congress. Those bills will get reshaped if corporations can give limited amounts of money,” said Pollan, at a talk focused on his new book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.

Pollan was referring to two U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food safety reform bills moving through Congress. In July, the House passed HR. 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, and the Senate is considering a similar bill, S. 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act–both bills would give the agency increased authority and resources.

The Senate bill was voted out of committee in November and has strong bipartisan support, but continues to be stalled behind health care reform.

Though there has been a series of delays, experts inside the beltway still expect the Senate to pass S. 510 in the near future. The Make Our Food Safe Coalition, a group of consumer and public health advocacy organizations, is making a push to pass the bill before Valentine’s Day, but it remains unclear when the Senate will make room in the floor schedule.

Pollan’s remarks about corporate influence on the food safety bills would likely only apply if the Senate delays taking up the issue until after the 2010 election cycle.

But, according to Pollan, there is reason to be concerned in all areas of food reform.

“As it is, the government doesn’t challenge corporations on food very much,” said Pollan, who cited the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) lack of mandatory recall authority as an example.

“The beef industry is embedded in the department of agriculture, and that is why the deparment of agriculture doesn’t even have the authority to recall meat that’s been tainted with E. coli O157:H7,” explained Pollan. “They can ask the meat companies to do it.”

Watch the clip of Pollan’s food safety comments here:


  • Bucknelldad

    Mr. Pollan is factually wrong and grossly irresponsible, if not stupid. First, the SCOTUS decision only effects a corporation’s and a union’s (yes, them too) ability to make unlimited independent expenditures to advocate the election or defeat of a candidate for office. It does not effect at all the prohibition on direct corporate or union contribution to candidates. Any reasonable analysis of food industry political spending shows 1) companies are supporting both parties pretty evenly (especially since 2006) and 2) the food industry pales in comparison to many other industries on how much they spend. Ever see a food company ad for or against a politician? Me neither, because they are too smart to engage in such tactics, and you sure aren’t going to see them start now. Among the biggest recipients of food industry political spending is none other than US Rep. John Dingell, a food safety stalwart.
    Another fact that Mr. Pollan conveniently ignores is that the food industry has endorse the very legislative proposals on food safety highlighted in this story. He should stick to things he knows about. Frankly, his very stupid comments undermines his credibility on other topics as well.

  • It is incredibly naiive to believe that the food industry wouldn’t put some of their money towards political causes they favor. They’ve even resisted labeling point-of-origin on meats.
    “Food, beverage, candy, and restaurant advertising expenditures weigh in at $11.26 billion in 2004, versus $9.55 million to promote healthful eating”
    Both the industry and our gov’t have dragged their heels for years on insuring our food is healthy and not tained with any number of things not desired.
    Hell, the Bush administration REDUCED the number of food inspectors and weakened the agencies involved in Food Safety.
    The current situation is an unorganized mess. The USDA promotes various food products yet is supposed to monitor some of the same. Susidies to corn, dairy, and the meat industries, haven’t given us some of the uhealthiest food anywhere (all the high fructose syrup in everything, the only Western nation with hormones being used in cattlge, etc.).
    It is totally unrealistic to believe, with the amount of money they’ve spent to convince us to eat crap, that the Food Industry wouldn’t take advantage of this Supreme Court Decision.

  • These bills will end up restricting organic farming and small family farms in the US. Read them, they are not good news if you believe in whole living foods.

  • These bills, in plain english, exclude large-scale commercial agriculture and confined animal feeding opps. how is that food safet “Enhancement” or “Moderninzation”?