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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

S. 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act – Santa does not exist and neither does bi-partisanship

I was reading Carl Hulse’s article “Legislative Hurdles in an Era of Conflict” in the New York Times this morning and had one of those moments like when I first learned that Santa Claus was in fact not real. Yes, perhaps I should have figured it out before I entered 7th grade, but I was a late bloomer. However, now at age 53 you would think I would have figured out that politics is a nasty and stupid business long before today. Here are a few lines that woke me from my bliss-filled ignorance of “how sausage is made:”

… the final vote of 247 to 170 broke almost strictly along party lines, with only five Republicans voting for the measure even though a senior Republican responsible for tax issues acknowledged that there were positive aspects to the bill. … Representative Sander M. Levin said: … “You say you agree with these provisions, but then you’re going to vote no,” … “You just don’t apparently want to be caught being bipartisan. It’s going to blur the political message.”…

The phenomenon has shown itself in the Senate as well in the current impasse over a package of tax breaks and safety-net spending. Extending unemployment benefits in times of economic duress used to be a popular vote, but not one Republican was willing to join Democrats on Thursday to break a filibuster holding up added jobless pay. …

Representative Michael N. Castle of Delaware, … said the gulf between the parties had grown so wide that most Republicans simply refused to vote for any Democratic legislation. …

“It is just the politics of the time,” said Mr. Castle, who is running for the Senate. “We are just into a mode where there is a lot Republican resistance to voting for anything the Democrats are for or the White House is for. I think part of it is where the polling is and how things seem to be going from a political point of view. It is an election year.”… If Republicans were to vote for Democratic legislation, it would represent a tacit acknowledgment that some Democratic ideas merit support — not the message Republicans want to send right now. They are working hard to portray Democrats as inept and themselves as a worthy alternative. …

So, is it because the Republicans have positioned themselves as “the party of no” that a bill like S. 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act has not seen a floor vote after passing out of the H.E.L.P. committee by a unanimous vote several months ago? Could a bill that passed without a no vote now be the victim of “party politics?” Is it possible that despite H.B. 2794 Food Safety Enhancement Act bi-partisan passage in the House almost a year ago, that its Senate version will not receive a vote?

Would Republicans, if given the chance to vote on S. 510 (remember, the Democrats hold a 59 to 41 vote margin and hold the reins of the legislative agenda) actually vote against it? Would they really say no (or, “hell no”) to the first major piece of food safety legislation in generations and ignore that they sicken 76,000,000 citizen/voters yearly food they eat? Really? Would Republican’s vote no to solidify their no narrative? I am not so sure.

First, a confession. I am a life-long Democrat. I have never voted for a Republican and I have given and raised millions for Democratic candidates (a large number of the phone calls I receive are candidate solicitations). However, I am not so sure that S. 510’s failure to pass can be set at the feet of the Republicans.

I think there are two things at play in the Democratic camp – both equally disturbing to a Democratic fundraiser, a guy who has testified before Congressional Committees and someone who has brought numerous clients poisoned by tainted food to add color to the Committee theatre.

First, that the Democratic leadership does not have the Democratic votes to pass this landmark legislation. With farm state Senators being seduced by the Tester’s small farm amendment and the liberals by Feinstein’s BPA amendment, perhaps Reid and the rest simply do not have the votes to pass the legislation?

Second, so what if Reid has the votes, but not the kind he wants? What if this bill actually has more Republican votes than Democratic ones? What if on this bill the Republicans want to say yes, but doing so would both show that the Democrats are not united and the Republicans are no the party of completely no. Yes, it does seem clear that the Republicans are intent on keeping to their narrative of no. But, perhaps the Democrats do not want to give the Republicans a chance to be bi-partisan?  Perhaps the Democratic narrative would be compromised by too many Republican yeses.

So, there is no Santa and politics is nasty and stupid. It really took me 53 years to figure that out?

  • Welcome to reality, Bill. I came to the conclusion two “crises” ago (financial and environmental) that the food safety bill will die on the order paper. It might be for the best.
    There is a large backlog of items that have been hanging fire (mandated but not acted upon) for years. Egg safety finally received attention from FDA last summer after languishing on the Bush back burner. Regulating the safety of the food transport industry has been passing from agency to agency without any progress being made.
    Some of this inaction is due to the policy of the last Administration; some is due to bureaucratic inertia; some to industry lobbying and some to lack of funds. There is a lot that can be done within current FDA mandates. Maybe FDA should adopt the mantra “Show us the money!”
    P.S. I grew up in Canada under a British style multi-party parliamentary system. Bipartisanship was never part of our political vocabulary. If the government of the day had a majority in the House of Commons, legislation got passed. If the government of the day did not have an outright majority, then a coalition usually was formed with one of the other parties. The process included negotiation on areas of policy agreement between the party leaders. Those Members of Parliament who were not part of the governing party/coalition official were known as “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.”

  • Sam Grubb

    I pledge allegience to the flag of the United States of Halliburton. One nation living in fear, with liberty and justice for the rich.

  • dangermaus

    What effect do think the documentation requirements of FSMA will have on the ability of injury lawyers to collect fees from lawsuits involving people that get food-borne illnesses?

  • John Munsell

    First, my confession: I WAS a die-hard Republican until recently. Now I’m an entrenched Independent, dissillusioned by both major parties, neither of which countenance the idea to partner with the other side of the aisle on anything.
    Secondly, I owned a USDA-inspected meat plant for 34 years. In 2000, USDA introduced its unscientific version of meat non-inspection called HACCP, which has deregulated the largest plants, while hyper-regulating the small plants, which are dwindling dramatically. Has the exodus of small plants improved public health and food safety? The ongoing plethora of recalls and outbreaks provide scientillating evidence that increased centralization of meat processing into fewer corporations has adversely impacted public health. The terrible financial burdens upon small business by USDA-style HACCP has forced thousands of legitimate small plants out of business. It has also increased our dependence on the handful of monolithic large transnational meat corporations and on imported meat, while eviscerating America’s rural community of small livestock producers and small meat plants.
    Senate Bill 510 will result in an identical exodus of small produce growers and farmers markets, and of course, increase our dependence on foreign produce from countries which lack America’s regulations on pesticides and herbicides.
    S. 510 proponents march to the mantra of “One size fits all”, and that agricultural producers must all comply with safe food requirements. What they fail to admit is that the vast majority of our recalls and outbreaks emanate from the large monoliths, all of whom have countless reams of 3rd party scientific reports, HACCP and SSOP Plans, unmeasurable reams of daily reports which ostensibly prove that these corporate giants are incapable of producing contaminated food. Their justification for such claims: mountains of paperwork, which is just what S. 510 will demand.
    Consumers want safe food. Consumers don’t eat paperwork, which is easily manipulated for corporate profits.
    S. 510 deserves to be deep-sixed.
    John Munsell

  • dangermaus

    AMEN – Munsell! I have yet to hear anyone give any sort of reasoned response to the argument that the biggest agribusiness companies are 1. the biggest part of the problem and 2. unlikely to be strongly affected by FSMA – unlike small farms that sell directly to consumers.

  • will jones

    MYTH: This bill will make it illegal to grow vegetables in a back-yard garden.
    FACT: This bill will make it illegal for anyone to sell vegetables from there back-yard garden to restaurants without permits/licensing/regulation
    FACT: Small farmers with “back-yard gardens” grow me nicer produce for my restaurant than anything I can get from SYSCO®.

  • As an organic raw meat eating (chicken included), home-fermented raw milk drinking, homemade raw vegetable juice drinking, and fruit eating Primal Dieter, this bill S. 510 would only make my life more difficult! I might eat different than other people and as a result think differently and “against the grains”, but I need plenty of freedom regarding food, and America is all about freedom first, right? I mean, what came first, the constitution/bill of rights, or the FDA? Raw, unprocessed foods from local organic farmers, or Big Ag, Big Food, Big Dairy, etc?
    I’d hate to leave society, but if they decide to take away our raw, organic, unprocessed, unregulated foods and eventually “chip” us (that’s the plan of the international bankers at least), then leaving society will be my only choice. I’ll have to be like the early Colonists and discover my own America. One without “chemtrails” and industry is preferable.

  • Velvet

    S 210 as Mr. Munsell stated is all about corporate take over of the food system.

    WHY has Food Safety been a problem for the last several years?

    As a Quality Engineer I can tell you. Paper work (HACCP introduced in 1996) is NOT the same as testing by government labs. Testing by Big Ag that shows disease causing Pathogens can and WILL be hidden. This is not a guess, this is a FACT.

    For example a food processing plant in my home town had positive results for listeriosis according to a friend who was the lab tech doing the testing, The Corporation shipped the food anyway. Meanwhile 1/3 of my herd of goats DIED from eating local corn – Necropsy results? listeriosis

    In addition you have Stan Painter’s testimony that Non-Compliance reports were swept under the rug. A freedom of Information Act turned up 16 POUNDS worth of non-compliance reports. Again Congress did nothing.

    Third example. California used to do about 10,000 on farm TB tests in cattle after HACCP it was cut to about 1,200. Meanwhile per WTO Agreement on Ag the USA borders were opened to Mexican cattle and a Mexican cattle Assoc was responsible for the border crossing – RESULT TB found in Texas, California Oklahoma and other states. The Media TRUMPED the INCREASE of testing from 1,200 to 1,400 but said NOTHING about the DECREASE from 10,000 nor that testing will be done at slaughter and not on farm allowing the disease more time to spread.