Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) says he will hold up the pending food safety bill unless Democrats find a way to pay for the measure.

With time running out in the Senate, advocates had hoped that the recent egg recall would provide the impetus to finally move the legislation, which has been stalled for more than a year, to the floor. Coburn’s threat, however, is a serious problem for the bill.

“We can’t afford to spend money we don’t have any longer,” Coburn spokesman John Hart told Politico Monday.  As Politico reported, the bill, which would cost about $1.4 billion over five years, does not break Congress’ self-imposed paygo rules because it only authorizes appropriations, it doesn’t actually set them (that would happen during the appropriations process).

In what is perhaps a larger challenge for the bill, Coburn seems to believe the key elements of the bill are unnecessary. Sen Coburn yesterday released a detailed memo outlining his concerns with the legislation.

He pointed to the recent, highly publicized egg recall, citing overlapping jurisdictions, the inefficient use of resources, and poor coordination as the systemic problems. “A lack of regulatory bill isn’t the problem,” he says in the memo.

“This overlap was evident in the egg salmonella scare,” reads the document. “The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. Department of Agriculture experts knew about sanitary problems at one of the two Iowa farms at the center of a massive nationwide egg recall, but did not notify health authorities. USDA inspects farms and gives eggs their “Grade A” label, while the FDA technically is tasked with the safety of the final egg product.”

Coburn also takes issue with what he calls “burdensome new regulations.”

“There are 225 pages of new regulations, many of which are problematic. While some regulations are potentially onerous, but perhaps reasonable – such as requiring every facility to have a scientifically-based, but very flexible, food safety plan–others give FDA sweeping authority with potentially significant consequences,” says the memo.

Performance standards granting “extremely broad” authority to the agency, traceability requirements, mandatory recall authority, and fees are among “the most troubling” elements of the bill, says Coburn. The senator also hits the commodity-specific produce safety standards.

“Instead of trusting industry and the free-market, this provision implies that complying with government standards is the best way to keep consumers safe,” says Coburn in the memo. “A lot of the produce industry lobbied for these standards to provide ‘consumer confidence’ after the jalapeno and tomato scare, but federal regulations could particularly adversely impact small providers.”

As it has for months, the outlook for the bill remains highly uncertain. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters Monday that he thought the bill was cleared to move forward, but learned that Coburn was objecting. “We hope within the next 24 hours he will say yes,” said Reid Tuesday afternoon. 

  • Does Coburn’s figures include taxable income for a healthier population? It seems that if the number dead or hospitalized was to be lowered as a result of safer food, than the government would maintain a tax base otherwise lost to foodborne-illness.
    It seems a macabre way to debate the bill, but Sen. Coburn has advanced it..
    Should we factor in time away from work to attend the funerals of the victims? Surely, their families also see a reduction in taxable income as a result.

  • Jim Schmidt

    Excellent work Mr. Coburn. Your knowledge of Food Safety is astounding. Perhaps you should retire from the Senate and start inspecting. Maybe you can help by making sure the recalled products are off the shelves.

  • bill kaye

    Since the American Meat industry has Senator Coburn in their back pocket along with the big meat companies located in OK. and neighboring states, he waited till the last possible second to try to derail the food safety bill. If you look up his donors of political moneys ,even the processors gave a lot of cash to his campains.

  • dangermaus

    Thank GOD the tide has been turned on this monstrosity, but we obviously have to keep fighting it until it’s dead-dead-dead!
    America’s real problem with food is that it’s over-processed, over-salted, over-sweetened, full of stabilizers, artificial flavorings and generally devoid of nutrition – and we eat far too much of it. FSMA would have made it even harder for small-scale producers to compete with the industrial giants. Just because most people choose not to know anything about their food doesn’t give tyrants in Washington the right to make it impossible to live any other way! Had the Democratic leadership supported Tester and Hagan, S510 probably would have passed, but no, they had to bring ALL FOOD PRODUCTION under their control. That’s not what our country is about!
    Using the fear-centric tactics used to try to ram this bill through – like:
    1. Quoting cases of people who were (tragically) injured by food-borne illness, or quoting how many people were affected in a given year while failing to acknowledge the fact that there was just no way of knowing what impact this law would have and
    2. Failing to acknowledge that the FDA wasn’t actually using the authority it already has and
    3. Failing to acknowledge that virtually all of these food poisoning stories came from large-scale processors, not small farms
    – was actually EXPLOITING those very victims of food-borne illnesses for you own causes!
    Plus –
    4. Failing to acknowledge that raw milk is much riskier than just about anything else on the market, and using it as an example of why the government needs to protect people from themselves
    5. Failing to acknowledge that when cows, hens, and pigs are raised stacked on top of one another it is fundamentally less safe than using pastures, and morally reprehensible to many
    6. Failing to admit that the epidemics of obesity, diabetes and auto-immune dysfunction (like allergies) are almost certainly caused by our diets have changed in the last century.
    – showed that you were not interested in the facts.
    People that think about their food, who know what it “is”, and prepare it safely and appropriately are not only fundamentally safer from food-borne illness than this kind of bill could ever make people who just heat stuff up, but also they get uncountable benefits from it, as well. FSMA supporters want to make that kind of personal responsibility irrelevant, and that’s just never going to be the case. They need to realize that food is alive, and attempts to make it more and more ship-able and unable to “spoil” are having serious deleterious impacts! Like, for example, we’ve lost so much of our culture that centers around food – dinner at the table, for goodness’ sake!
    This is how to get real food reform passed:
    -The real problem is that most of the food that we eat in this country is not real food – do something about it, like repealing all grain subsidies.
    -Admit that there will always be food poisoning, it’s tragic, but true. The best way to protect yourself is to protect YOURSELF by knowing where and how it was produced, and how to prepare it.
    -Small-scale food production should be encouraged and nurtured, industrial food production should be regulated and taxed – the difference should be that stark.
    So do it! If you really care about it, but I don’t think those that supported FSMA do care about it, or they would have based FSMA on these obvious facts. I think they are too scared of the special interests. In the mean time – as the feminists say – keep your laws off my body!
    “If people let the government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.” ~Thomas Jefferson.
    “There is No Right to Consume or Feed Children Any Particular Food; There is No Generalized Right to Bodily and Physical Health; There is No Fundamental Right to Freedom of Contract.” ~ US Dept of Health & Human Services and US Food & Drug Administration, 2010

  • RetroLogic

    What he said!