Memo to Nancy Pelosi: The next E. coli Club meeting will be held at the Office of Management and Budget. Remember the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)? Obama signed the legislation into law in January 2011, praising it as a critically important tool to protect our nation’s food supply and keep consumers safe. Obama declared food safety to be one of his top priorities. FSMA is the first major reform of the FDA in 70 years, granting the FDA broad preventive controls and industry accountability mandates. There were many concerns from the Republicans about an overreaching bureaucracy, the cost and the impact on smaller farms. Some of the concerns were addressed in the Tester (D-Montana) Amendment exempting small farms from many of the regulations. Interestingly, after the amendment passed, Big Agri, which had strongly supported the bill, suddenly experienced a waning interest in its passage. It wasn’t fair, they said, that small local farmers would not have to fill out mountains of paperwork and incur huge additional costs in meeting the FSMA requirements. Obligations which, by the way, would have put most of the small farms out of business. There was some squabbling over FDA funding that led to Pelosi’s characterizing Republicans as the E. coli Club. Nancy must not have been aware that the critically important Food Safety Modernization Act lies fallow in the OMB. The FDA failed to meet seven deadlines in implementing the law’s major regulations because they are awaiting OMB approval. The Center for Food Safety filed suit against the FDA and the OMB to force action. Center for Food Safety Lawsuit Targets FDA, OMB on Stalled Food Safety Act
More than eighteen months after the law’s passage, and untold numbers of food safety illness episodes later – including last week’s salmonella outbreak from Indiana-based cantaloupe farms resulting in two deaths and 178 sickened people in 21 states – FDA has yet to enact any implementing of FSMA’s food safety regulations.
“Parents having to worry if feeding melon to their child will lead to hospitalization or even death is unconscionable,” said Michele Simon, policy consultant for the Center. “Congress and the President hammered out this law with the clear intent of protecting the nation’s food supply and preventing more outbreaks. Every day the Administration delays mean another day Americans are at risk.”
Typically when legislation enactment gets bogged down in the OMB it means special interests are involved. As mentioned before, Big Agri has lost its appetite for this legislation. Perhaps the administration will keep this on its plate until after the election. Maybe it really takes this long to write the regs which farmers will have to live with on a daily basis. Or, maybe special interest politics transcends ideology. It is specifically OMB’s Office of Information and Regulation Administration (OIRA) holding things up. Until recently the administrator of OIRA was none other than Mr. Cass Sunstein, no friend of big business. I believe Nancy knows him. This article originally appeared on Tammy Bruce’s Live Wire blog on September 7, 2012.