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: