Header graphic for print
Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Food Safety – “Where’s the Cash?”

The Food Safety Act of 2010 (an amalgam of S. 510, with Tester/Hagen Amendment, and H.B. 2749) was quietly signed into law by President Obama, along with a few dozen other bills, upon his return from Christmas and New Years 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, who, 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 Republican’s claiming that 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 if the cost of hiring more inspectors at FDA to allow inspections of food manufacturing facilities more frequently than the five to seven years that occurs now. 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 number of cases of foodborne illnesses in the USA each year as 76 million, with 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. Now, after almost a decade of work, the CDC released new numbers – 47.8 million cases of foodborne illness, 127,000 hospitalizations and 3,030 deaths.

However, before the Republican’s once again claim “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 yearly are sickened by the food we eat?

Setting aside the personal, human, toll for a moment to look at the numbers; In a 2010 report by Robert L. Scharff for the Pew Memorial Trust, medical and other costs to victims amounted to $152 billion a year. This Pew Study (based upon the 1999 CDC estimates), presumably with a 37% 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 product. However, one only has to remember the Spinach, Tomato, Peanut Butter and Egg outbreaks in the last few years to see $100’s of millions in business losses – independent of the $10’s millions paid in personal injury settlements and verdicts.

So, really, is our food supply “99.99 percent safe?” So, really, is Beck correct that implementing this bill would be akin to Stalin’s food policies or the Star War’s “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:

  • Money might not be an issue if food safety dollars were divided out based on responsibility. Between the FDA and the USDA there is a little over $2 billion budgeted annually. It’s almost equally distributed yet the FDA is responsible for 80% of the country’s food supply. But what Republican from a farm state is going support a fair distribution when the money will come from the dispenser of the farm subsidies.

  • Doc Mudd

    By far the largest share of the USDA/FDA budget funds feeding programs – WIC, SNAP, various foodstamp style subsidies – so expect a big pushback against food safety from reps with urban & ethnic districts.
    Hell, there’s $400 million budgeted for Michelle Obama’s “Healthy Food Financing Initiative.” According to USDA, this new initiative “is designed to support local and regional efforts to increase access to healthy foods, particularly for the development of grocery stores and other healthy food retailers in urban and rural food deserts and other underserved areas.” In other words, nearly half a billion to subsidize food snobbery.
    There’s an extra billion being thrown at school lunches, no doubt with a good share of that to be pissed away on overpriced fashion food for kids who couldn’t care less.
    Oh, there’s plenty of pork to cut and no legitimate need to sacrifice food safety if congress will only get their priorities straightened out.

  • Gabrielle Meunier

    Hey Doc, while I agree with you that there should be a larger emphasis with both budgets on food safety, I do think that school lunches need to be improved, badly. We pay about $3 for a hot lunch meal for our elementary age son and the food is processed crap. Have you seen Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution? Well all schools need to feed the kids health fresh food, which costs more money. The kids need to continually be educated on food choices. Schools have been cutting budgets over the last 20 years for any extracurricular and so that would also include food education. So I hope part of Michelle’s initiatives include more education. I also believe that having more healthy living alternative grocery stores will promote healthier eating habits. I know it has for me and I did believe priorly that it was food snobery. I do not believe that now that I have lost weight and eat an organic, fresh, healthy lunch each day from my local organic grocery store.

  • J S

    WHAT IS NEXT…. A DISCLAIMER ON FOOD LABELS…. “MAY CONTAIN ONE OR MORE PATHOGENIC BACTERIA THAT COULD MAKE YOU VERY ILL OR KILL YOU ”
    LIKE THE SEC THE FDA IS UNDER STAFFED AND THE CONSUMER IS AT THEIR OWN RISK