More Twisted Priorities
By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
One of the best things the 111th Congress did was enact the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which President Obama signed into law on Jan. 4, 2011. At that point it became Public Law 111-353. The law took away from the United States Agriculture Department responsibility for food safety inspections and gave that job to the Food and Drug Administration.
I doubt anybody ever explained the shift this bluntly in public, but underlying the legislation was the fact that USDA wasn’t doing an effective job of protecting you and me from infection by salmonella, e.coli, and several other food-borne illnesses that a decent inspection routine could eliminate – if not entirely, then way closer to it. Contamination of foods as dissimilar as spinach, peanuts, and cookie dough have sickened one American in six in recent years.
There has long been a revolving door between USDA and Big Agribusiness; employees at the decision-making level move between the two to enhance their careers and lifestyles. Nothing wrong with that, except that the ag managers bring with them to the USDA the desire to suit Big Ag’s needs, and the USDA folks bring to agribusiness an intimate knowledge of the federal agency and exactly where the erogenous zones are.
Same is true of FDA and the pharmaceutical industry. The revolving door between FDA and Big Pharma is as active as that between USDA and Big Ag. But FDA isn’t in bed with the food industry and is therefore more likely to be more rigorous and impartial in its food safety inspections. So, the thought was, we can solve our food safety problems by handing them over to government workers not likely ever to seek a job in agriculture. (What we do about the drug part of the Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory function is a question for another day, probably for another Congress, and maybe another administration.)
The law calls for FDA to heighten its oversight of domestic and imported foods, and develop new processes to prevent the kind of contamination that has become so common in the US’s food production system. To pay for FDA’s new responsibility, the law added $837 million to the agency’s budget.
For the next fiscal year, which begins October 1, President Obama asked for $955 million, slightly more than a 14% increase.
Instead, the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees FDA cut that amount to $755 million, $87 million less than the current appropriation and a neat $200 million less than Obama’s request.
In justifying the cut, subcommittee chairman Jack Kingston (R-GA1), said
This subcommittee has begun making some of the tough choices necessary to right the ship.
Tough choices? Really tough choices would cut military spending and rein in the empire the CIA and NSA have built. That’s where the budget overruns are coming from.
How much more legislative malfeasance are the people of the USA going to put up with? What the House Republicans are doing in their effort to reduce the federal budget, hence the dread national debt, is like being nibbled to death by ducks. They’ll cripple a program meant to protect their own families and the people who voted for them by reducing food safety spending by $87 million. They’ll cut funding for tornado warning systems, also a piddling amount compared to the budget. But touch spending for big ticket war equipment? Or reduce the amount spent to collect “intelligence”? Not on your life, literally.
When you compare the number of Americans who have been killed by contaminated food, hurricanes, and tornadoes in the past five years with the number killed by terrorists, you’ve got to wonder: what are these people thinking? Who, exactly, are these people serving?
Note: This is my 500th blog post on this site. My first appeared on July 3, 2008. And if you want to know who I am and what I look like, click here. It’s been a great ride, and I hope to do another 500 before I’m done.