Political maneuvering over funding the newly enacted food safety law–the most significant update in over seven decades–continued this week as Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), incoming chair of the subcommittee overseeing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s budget, threatened to withhold funding for implementation.
Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), one of the key backers of the new law in the Senate, said he thought GOP criticisms might be a bluff. “I just can’t understand why they would do that,” Harkin told Iowa Radio Thursday. “Here’s a food safety bill supported by consumer groups, all the business groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Consumer’s League. We had 73 votes in the Senate on this bill and they don’t want to fund it?”
Kingston slammed the new food safety law and discussed GOP opposition to funding its new provisions on FOX Atlanta Wednesday.
When asked if his party intended to withhold funding for implementation he said: “I think we will. We have a lot of concerns about the necessity of putting 18,000 food police on the streets and the kitchens of America. The trend in food safety has been very, very favorable. I’m not sure that this kind of investment is going to give any returns that justify it.”
When the anchor pressed Kingston about the recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates on the annual public health burden of foodborne illness, Kingston said the new estimates showed improvement.
“You know, those numbers are something we’re all concerned about, but if you look at where they’ve been, the number of foodborne illnesses has dropped from 325,000 to the 128,000 figure–and those are the CDC figures–so it’s been trending in the right direction.”
CDC has emphasized that the new estimates represent an improved methodology and cannot be used for assessing trends in actual foodborne illnesses in the U.S. annually.
“I’m concerned about the government overplaying their hand for political purposes,” said Kingston. “One of the things that we know, as politicians, is poll numbers, and the poll numbers go up anytime you talk about foods safety because people, rightfully, are concerned about the food that their children eat or that their senior citizen parents eat. We all want a safe food supply.”
“So what we politicians do, is we rattle the cage of fear and say ‘oh gosh, you better reelect us or the food you’re eating is going to be tainted,’ ” said Kingston, who also lamented that there was a political risk in opposing the funding for a politically popular bill.
“I think there is risk in everything we do … soon we will all be accused of hating clean air, clean water, senior citizens, children, education–everything else,” said Kingston. “But, that’s just the politics of hysteria that we’re in, unfortunately.”
“We’re a country right now with a debt that’s 96 percent of the GDP. The deficit is a trillion dollars. We’ve got to make some serious decisions. And if we’ve got a food supply that is 99.99 percent safe, do you really need to hire 18,000 federal bureaucrats to tell the private sector what to do?”
Ranking member on the subcommittee, Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), believes the new law, which she strongly supported, is a “significant step forward for addressing the problems with our current food safety system.”
“Ensuring the safety of the American public should be a priority, and I am disappointed to hear that some of my Republican colleagues do not feel that this applies to our food supply,” said DeLauro, in an email response to Food Safety News. “With an estimated 1 in 6 American consumers affected by a food borne illness each year, resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and a staggering 3,000 casualties, this is a matter of life and death. I urge my Republican colleagues to recognize the importance of protecting our food supply, and to support this new law.”