They say that confession is good for the soul, so here goes. My confession is that I find most all of the peripheral food issues around food safety pretty boring. I was hoping Congress would take more of them off the table in the $1.1-trillion omnibus spending bill it passed on Friday. Just for the record, the actual federal budget for fiscal year 2016 comes in at around $4 trillion. The U.S. government will again have to borrow to make up for revenue shortages, and we’ll have to add about $414 million to the federal debt. George Bush and Barack Obama were supposed to be opposites, but each president has come pretty close to doubling the debt they inherited. Bush came in when there was $5.6 trillion on the credit account, and his wars and domestic spending took it up to $10 trillion. Obama has taken it from $10 trillion to $18.7 trillion, and he is not finished. I guess the president has used the credit card to buy a slow but steady recovery, along with his health insurance program. It’s kind of a mystery to me just where all this money has gone since, when you look at USDA or FDA, there weren’t any massive infusions. The new spending bill does include a bump of about 5 percent for FDA to use in implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act. That’s an increase of about $104.5 million, a few million dollars shy of the $109.5 million the president requested in his budget. Congress even bested the president’s budget request by adding $3.3 million for USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). But that still leaves FSIS with $1.6 million less than it had in 2015. Those who work, largely behind the scenes, to pull out enough spending for these food safety agencies to do their jobs are owed our gratitude. Food safety is reliant on the discretionary spending of the Ds and Rs we elect. This has always been a scary prospect for me, and I’ve offered the opinion before that more of the spending on food safety should be shifted away from the taxpayers and on to the consumer through user fees on the industry. It’s an acquired taste, I realize. Congress does get my support most anytime it uses the omnibus to decide one of these hairball food issues where the relationship to food safety is found mostly in the rhetoric, not the reality. I finally came to the conclusion that country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for certain cuts of meat falls into that category. Nobody could really point to the value of COOL on meat packaging beyond the aspiration. I’ve never shopped at a meat counter where I couldn’t find out with specific details where their beef comes from. But I think $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs being pressed on the U.S. would have been felt. And is anyone seriously fearful of beef from Alberta? I did not think so. A lot of what gets in these bills is just precious, such as bans on Chinese chicken and yet another prohibition on horse slaughter. The politicians are always a little slow on the uptake — none of them sought to ban Chipotle from buying more European pork. But no worries. As long as China and Japan will continue to honor the White House credit card, what’s wrong with voting some silly ideas up or down?
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