USA Today, Coburn weigh in on food safety debate; Coburn to offer alternative bill:

USA Today, one of America’s most widely circulated newspapers, featured opposing sides of the debate over pending food safety legislation Tuesday.  Citing a slew of recent high-profile outbreaks, recent USA Today food safety exposes, and foodborne illness stats, the paper’s editorial staff penned an Op-Ed in support of the bill, which would be the first major overhaul of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s food regulatory system in over seven decades.

In the same edition, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), who last week derailed the debate over the bill, made his case against the legislation in a guest Op-Ed, arguing for a plan that instead “leverages the free market.”

“America has the safest food supply in the world, and it has never been safer.  The rates of food-borne illness have been declining for more than a decade,” wrote Coburn.  “Still, tragic outbreaks do occur and government can take common-sense steps to make our food supply even safer.”

Coburn argues that the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, S.510, which would boost the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s inspection mandate, give it mandatory recall authority, and require food facilities to put food safety plans in place, is an overreaction to recent outbreaks and will “impose new and invasive regulations” as well as expand “duplicative” bureaucracy.

“For the past 100 years, the free market, not the government, has been the primary driver of innovation and improved safety,” adds Coburn.  “Consumer choice is a far more effective accountability mechanism than government bureaucracies.”

The USA Today editorial concedes that in some cases regulators have not used the authority they already have, but in other instances they lack necessary authority.

“When internal testing at one peanut plant found salmonella, for example, the owners kept testing until the findings were negative, then shipped the product.  The government had to use a bioterrorism statute to force the company to divulge the positive tests,” the article explains, referring to the massive 2009 Peanut Corporation of America peanut butter recall and outbreak that sickened 700 and killed 9.

“The bill, scheduled for a vote after Thanksgiving, is so unobtrusive and common-sensical that it even has support from the staunchly anti-regulatory U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and cereal maker General Mills,” continues USA Today.

During the debate over the legislation, which is scheduled to begin the evening of Nov. 29, Sen. Coburn plans to offer an alternative bill in addition to a contentious and unrelated amendment that would ban legislative earmarks for fiscal years 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Coburn’s measure, much more limited in scale, would require FDA and USDA to establish a plan on information sharing and allow a greater role for private third-party auditors to “lessen the regulatory load for the agency.”

Whereas S. 510 would give the FDA increased access to food safety records in cases of adulteration, Coburn’s proposal would allow FDA access to records only in a declared public health emergency. 

  • (
    Sen. Tom Coburn describes the number of illnesses as “declining” for the past decade. I don’t think this is an accurate depiction of the situation. Based on this graph from the CDC, it would be more realistic to describe the number of illnesses as “having declined a decade ago.”
    Around the year 2000, case numbers dropped off significantly. However, the following ten years show numbers that have generally stayed steady. It’s not just or reasonable to go fishing for the last drop in stats and then claim that some sort of consistent progress is being made in the numbers.
    Between this Tomfoolery and Coburn’s nonfactual claim (on the floor of the Senate) that no company had ever refused to voluntarily recall foods, its hard to take his office seriously when they claim to have an informed solution on food safety.

  • Carlo Silvestri

    Senator Coburn blithely ignores the so-called “free” market which is anything but free. It is driven by greed and so many examples of this are readily available but no! They’ll control themselves. They will NOT! Capitalism is just that, driven by greed. No government regulation. It will cut into our profits and let someone like Tom Coburn use all the spurious justifications that are out there. We may have the safest food supply in the world but will one outbreak of O157 H7 be enough to convince these people of the need for oversight? I highly doubt it. What about an outbreak of salmonella? Those who suffered from this recent Iowa outbreak would probably have liked to have some sort of government oversight. After all, the companies certainly didn’t watch themselves. This is what these free-marketers want, a greater ability to line their own pockets.
    Pass the bill. It’s a step in the right direction and the hell with Tom Coburn.

  • Joe

    “The bill, scheduled for a vote after Thanksgiving, is so unobtrusive and common-sensical that it even has support from the staunchly anti-regulatory U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and cereal maker General Mills,” continues USA Today.” ?/?///??
    This is one of the funniest things Ive read yet and you want to know why? Well there is no common sense involved with this “food safety bill”, at least none that is being used as of right now. Look at whats in the bill, not the title.
    One should care not about the safety of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, when those who wish to pass this bill are saying that the nutrients in that sandwich are “toxins”.
    This bill of safety is a blatant attack on your US rights and its being done in such a sneaky way. Do the research guys.

  • Nicole Marlar

    To all of those in favor of this obscene intrusion into every aspect of our food supply, I have but one request:
    Prior to having an opinion, READ THE BILL! Not the biased abridged interpretation from one side or the other – I am talking about READING the ENTIRE BILL!
    Have you learned nothing from the “healthcare reform” fiasco?!?

  • John

    Senate bill 510 is a crazy bill it is grab for power. Of who can buy and sell or even give away or save seeds. If you want seeds you will have to buy genetically altered seeds after registering to grow them. You won’t be allowed to own healthy seeds lets impeach those that vote for S 510. That is the only reason they push to have this done before a lame duck congress.
    If the Senators that were fired think they can vote for this Treason-es bill with no trouble they are wrong they will not be welcome in America because they Sold out every American family for money.