The Food Safety Act of 2010 (an amalgam of S. 510, with the Tester/Hagen Amendment, and H.B. 2749) was quietly signed into law, along with a few dozen other bills, by President Obama upon his return from his Christmas and New Year holiday in Hawaii. The quiet signing ceremony of legislation that passed overwhelmingly in both houses, albeit not without several times seeming to be D.O.A., was in stark contrast to the rants of the “King of Crazies,” Glenn Beck. According to Huffington Post:
“Beck recently called the law ‘the Death Star,’ adding, ‘this is what Stalin did,’ and claiming that America has the safest food supply in the world.”
Beck is now being joined by a chorus of Republicans who say the legislation needs no funding because, as former ranking Republican Jack Kingston claims, “the U.S. food supply 99.99 percent safe.”
In essence, the argument is that we can not afford the $1.4 billion (over five years) price tag to implement the legislation, which in large part is the cost of hiring more inspectors at FDA to inspect food manufacturing facilities more frequently than every five to seven years. Or as Fred Love, a spokesman for Rep. Tom Latham, who sits on the appropriations subcommittee that deals with the FDA, said in an e-mail:
“When one considers the record deficits our country faces and the renewed focus on fiscal restraint in the U.S. House of Representatives, it’s going to be very difficult to find the money to pay for implementation of the bill.”
Several Republicans point to the “new CDC numbers” as evidence that the government’s work on food safety is done. Since 1999, the CDC has estimated the annual number of cases of foodborne illnesses in the USA as 76 million, with 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. Now, after almost a decade of work, the CDC released new estimates: 47.8 million cases of foodborne illness, 127,000 hospitalizations and 3,030 deaths.
However, before the Republicans once again declare “mission accomplished,” the CDC says the drop is likely caused by improved surveillance of illnesses, better criteria for determining an actual food-related illness, and exclusion of international travel-related illnesses. Yet, even if the new numbers from the CDC also show improvement, should we really be satisfied that ONLY 48 million of us are sickened each year by the food we eat?
Setting aside the personal, human toll for a moment to look at the numbers, consider this: In a 2010 report by Robert L. Scharff for the Pew Memorial Trust, medical and other costs to victims of contaminated food amounted to $152 billion a year. This Pew Study (based upon the 1999 CDC estimates), presumably with a 37 percent reduction in counted illnesses, the costs to victims yearly ONLY are a few billion over $100 billion.
In addition, the Pew Study did not account for recall costs, lost sales, loss of reputation, loss of exports, etc, to the businesses that caused or businesses that were in the chain of distribution of the offending products. However, one only has to remember the spinach, tomato, peanut butter and egg outbreaks in the last few years to see $100s of millions in business losses–independent of the $10s of millions paid in personal injury settlements and verdicts.
So, really, is our food supply “99.99 percent safe?” Is Beck correct that implementing this bill would be akin to Stalin’s food policies or the Star Wars “Death Star?” Is $1.2 billion over five years too much to invest in providing more resources to the FDA, the CDC and state and local health departments to do more inspections and more accurate surveillance of foodborne disease?
Glenn and his Republican minions should ask Linda Rivera and her family: