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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

I am not becoming a Republican – I hope

Like many interested in food safety, I keep hoping to see S. 510 move to a vote on the Senate floor. Politico reports:

022410_Coburnpic_monster_397x224.jpgSenate Democrats say they are on the brink of passing a sweeping food safety overhaul the House approved more than a year ago — but Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is blocking a final push from the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to reach a consent agreement on the bill.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters Tuesday he believed the bipartisan legislation — which gained momentum over recess as thousands of Americans fell ill from more than half a billion contaminated eggs — could pass within the next 24 hours. But sources close to the situation say committee staffers are working to fashion an agreement acceptable to the Oklahoma Republican. …

The pending legislation would give much-needed updates to a food regulatory system that is nearly a century old, granting the Food and Drug Administration recall authority and also imposing stricter rules on mandatory inspections, trace-back protocol, access to company records and whistleblower protections — all of which are lacking in the current food safety law.

Here is Coburn’s beef:

Despite Reid’s optimistic 24-hour prediction, it’s unclear how Democrats will be able to strike a deal on a bill that Congressional Budget Office estimates will cost $1.4 billion over five years. The bill is not fully offset.

“If this was a priority for the majority, they would have already paid for it,” Coburn’s spokesman said.

Coburn has a point. Passing legislation without having the means to pay for it makes no sense at all.  Perhaps we can get Coburn and Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to co-sponsor a bill introduced by Leahy that would create a new criminal offense for any individual or corporation that knowingly distributes tainted food products. The bill also establishes fines and prison sentences of up to 10 years for those convicted of such a crime.

  • roy costa

    Well if the majority means the American tax payer, the cost burden for us gets higher and higher as the situation worsens, If government leaders do not think they have to address food safety in a comprehensive and meaningful way then what is the solution? The status quo is getting more and more difficult to justify. So maybe they think self regulation in their absence is good public health policy. So poor. And where are our outspoken public health scientists on this issue lately? Oh yes, they are busy doing research on the industry dollar.
    As you know, Bill, I work daily with the food industry. Most operators know they have to operate safely and most I work with do. But the DeCosters, Con Agra and the Parnells still poison the food supply. This is the major threat to business as usual, but as usual, the food industry resists regulation and beats back the tide of public opinion. In this stagnation, what should happen in a free market economy is that the consumer should be able to tip the pendulum. There is a huge popular movement to buy local, and I am seeing it everywhere now. While this may lessen the consumers chances of being caught up in a national outbreak, the microbes really do not know where they are. What this will do though, is cost the major brands and the retailers a bunch, as the market turns away from the mass produced, to the locally owned and operated. I don’t think this is a bad trend and may cause more change in the dynamic then as you say, underfunded mandates.
    I don’t think I am a republican either but we may be forced to really push on the market forces to get the ball rolling. As long as we have freedom to buy our food where where we want to and a choice, I think we can affect the change we need at the consumer level through buying power.

  • I find myself much more comfortable to not be affiliated with any party, both sides regularly prove themselves to be pretty unsavory politicians. this is a perfect example.

  • Comfy

    Hiya Bill,
    The older I get the more Republican I become ;-) It’s not all bad, really.
    I just can’t agree with any bill or legislation that is unfunded. Robbing Peter to pay Paul and living above our means is partly what got us into this economic mess.
    I attended my first class of the Master Gardener program last night. There were 150 applicants for this class of which 40 were accepted. Food safety is a major issue among many consumers.
    I am among the growing number of folks who promote buying local/seasonal and having a home garden. I also advocate for urban chicken and goat keeping. Based on their records in recent years I don’t trust the food industry, farming industry or gov’t to ensure our food is safe.
    My girls, goats and hens, have a huge area to live in … abundant sunshine, fresh non GMO food (and no soy), no hormnes, no antibiotics, etc. My garden is organic. Life is good.

  • We fight wars without the means to pay for it, what the hell is the difference? The government has spent money it didn’t have since the day it was created. Old news. You shouldn’t care. It won’t make a difference in your life. A food safety bill (that doesn’t suck) might actually prevent a few deaths.

  • Larry Andrew

    The costs of implementing this legislation should be offset by fees paid by companies to cover in increased testing., reporting and inspection protocols. Should be a cost of doing business. The cost should not be born by the general taxpayer even though most will likely end up paying more through increased food prices..

  • Bill,
    I just got off the phone from talking with Sen. Coburn’s office.
    He has good reason to be concerned about the cost of S 510. It calls for actually inspecting the almost 200,000 registered facilities and over 1,500,000 farms and provides almost no additional funding. How can that possibly have a net cost of only $1.4 billion over 5 years? Dr. Coburn is a family physician with an undergraduate degree in accounting that he used in his extremely successful, 8 year career in manufacturing in his family’s optical business. Dr. Coburn is a person who can read a CBO estimate and accurately gauge its accuracy.
    Not only is S 510 underfunded at the federal level, it is a much greater, unfunded mandate on the states because the states will be required to inspect the 1,500,000+ farms under the new Sec. 419 Standards for Produce Safety. This is just like the unfunded mandates the Republicans were criticized for during the Bush Administration.
    And when outbreaks occur and are traced to a farm, who will be criticized? The agency in that state responsible for inspections NOT the FDA. So this bill provides lots of cover for the FDA.
    But those are not his only concerns. I was assured by a member of his staff that Dr. Coburn has broader concerns with the bill than just how to pay for it. I look forward to hearing what they are.

  • Steve Gilman

    Pay-Go is one thing, but holding up a floor vote on S.510 over the issue is a spurious claim. There seems to be an intentional misunderstanding about the real nature of S.510 and unfortunately Senator Coburn, as is his wont it seems, is indulging in some serious demagoguery here.
    The reason is that bills that fall under the Pay-Go rules concern mandatory spending provisions, not discretionary appropriations. Even a cursory analysis of S.510 shows that it does not actually spend ANY money at this point — but it does authorize money to be spent IF those monies are appropriated in a later act of Congress in an appropriations bill.
    So the reality is there nothing to pay for now and therefore no Pay-Go. The actual Pay-Go question kicks in next year and in following years when the agricultural appropriations bills are debated and voted on.

  • Carl R. Hansen, Jr., M.D.

    Harry Hamill: “S 510. It calls for actually inspecting the almost 200,000 registered facilities and over 1,500,000 farms and provides almost no additional funding. How can that possibly have a net cost of only $1.4 billion over 5 years?”

    The issue at hand that has been active for decades reflects a fourth quadrant Black Swan (Taleb) outlier (Gladwell) situation. Success is often achieved by avoiding bad things. Americans have been presented with such a threat from bad eggs.

    The notion that inspection of 200,000 facilities and 1,500,000 farms will do anything to remedy a situation that has grown unchecked for decades is naive or delusional.
    (http://www.theatlantic.com/food/archive/2010/09/timeline-of-shame-decades-of-decoster-egg-factory-violations/63059/)

    The failure to see food safety as a homeland security issue and use appropriate remedies.

    Look at the Anthrax scare. It also cost a fortune before the real cause was determined. (http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-10-12-powder_N.htm).

    We witnessed hysterical and exaggerated response to the Anthrax scare. It led Minnesota’s U.S. Senator Mark Dayton to close his Washington office. (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6243845/)

    Senator Dayton is now the Democratic candidate for Governor of Minnesota. In 1999, he talked about placing a moratorium on livestock feedlots if he was elected Governor. In his Minnesota Public Radio interview he even mentioned the health hazards of these operations:

    “And there’s no permitting, there’s no supervision, there’s no regulation, there’s no monitoring. There hasn’t been anything that the MPCA has done to deny permits or force this industry to clean up. And in fact, they’ve taken citizens that have gotten sick, who’s farms are being overrun, and whose communities are being stunk, whose lives are being destroyed. They’ve been arrogant and indifferent.”
    (http://news.minnesota.publicradio.org/features/199809/11_boothek_daytonenviro/)

    During the remainder of his term in the U.S. Senate, he and others failed to see the REAL biohazard problems.

    They also failed to propose and enact effective corrective legislation to address existing problems that threatened the American public much more than terrorists on the other side of the world.

    Salmonella, E. Coli and other food safety issues are significant threats to or homeland security.

    But, there is no sense in a last minute hurry up and get it done approach like we have seen in the last decade from the U.S. Congress.

    It is time for the American people to reflect on their elected officials and the operation of their government which is supposed to be for, of and by the people.

    Perhaps the time has come to begin changing the complexion of our U.S. Congress, state legislatures, county boards, local governments.

    Government departments, agencies, administrations and bureaus also need to change and protect the people rather than those who have deep pockets, lobbyists and a variety of skills at legal, extra-legal and media manipulation.