Political Animal


June 01, 2011 9:55 AM Bad news for Americans who eat food

By Steve Benen

In December, Americans who eat food received some very good news. A sweeping overhaul of the nation’s food-safety system, approved by both chambers with large, bipartisan majorities, cleared Congress, and was quickly signed into law by President Obama.

The long-overdue law expands the FDA’s ability to recall tainted foods, increases inspections, demands accountability from food companies, and oversees farming — all in the hopes of cracking down on unsafe food before consumers get sick. This was the first time Congress has approved an overhaul of food-safety laws in more than 70 years.

That’s the good news. The bad news is, the Republican-led House is fighting to gut the law.

Budget cuts proposed by House Republicans to the Food and Drug Administration would undermine the agency’s ability to carry out a historic food-safety law passed by Congress just five months ago, food safety advocates say. […]

To carry out the new law, President Obama is seeking $955 million for food safety at the FDA in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

Last week, the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the FDA pared back that amount to $750 million, which is $87 million less than the figure the agency is currently receiving for food safety.

“This subcommittee has begun making some of the tough choices necessary to right the ship,” said Chairman Jack Kingston, (R-Ga.).The full committee was scheduled to vote on the proposed cuts Tuesday, and the budget proposal was expected to pass.

Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee approved the cuts yesterday, which are severe enough to prevent the FDA from implementing the new law. Erik Olson, director of food and consumer product safety programs at the Pew Health Group, part of a coalition of public health advocates and food makers, said this week, “These cuts could seriously harm our ability to protect the food supply.”

Boy, those midterm elections really set the country on the right path, didn’t they?

It’s also worth appreciating the fact that these cuts to food safety were made in the name of fiscal responsibility, but it’s a classic example of being penny wise and pound foolish. Indeed, cutting funding on food safety is likely to cost us more money, not less.

I realize this may seem counter-intuitive. I can even imagine some Fox News personality telling viewers, “Those wacky liberals think it costs money to cut spending! What fools!”

But this just requires a little bit of thought. When we cut spending on food safety, we save a little money on inspection, but end up paying a lot of money on health care costs when consumers get sick.

The GOP approach is misguided as a matter of public health, public safety, and budgeting.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • Ron Byers on June 01, 2011 10:09 AM:

    Follow the money, follow the money. I bet this was bought and paid for by the big agricultural companies. Nothing misguided about it at all. It is typical Republican corruption dressed up in misguided fiscal policy with a petina of libertarianism

  • berttheclock on June 01, 2011 10:11 AM:

    Equally misguided was Vilsack's cave-in to Monsanto. On appointment day, did President Obama allow Bush to appoint Vilsack, Ken Salazar and Geithner?

  • blondie on June 01, 2011 10:12 AM:

    No, you don't understand - the best way to deal with the unemployed, the poor, the undereducated, is to let them die. But if you wait for natural causes, it'll take a while. Better to poison them through their food supply.

    (And a h/t to Jonathan Swift.)

  • K in VA on June 01, 2011 10:14 AM:

    On the other hand, if our food is unsafe, more people will die from eating bad food, resulting in fewer people without health insurance.

  • berttheclock on June 01, 2011 10:17 AM:

    I say One Nation under Archer Midland Daniels and Monsanto.

    Makes one want to order a latte of HalfCaf and Hemlock.

  • Texas Aggie on June 01, 2011 10:24 AM:

    My general thoughts have already been stated by previous posters, but I strongly support the view that this is the republicans' back door method of making sure that nothing interferes with the profits of Corporate Agriculture.

    And also, no one has made the point that cutting appropriations actually will cut government expenditures by passing the buck to the people who get sick. It's the same philosophy that guides Ryan's "Medicare" proposal. Shift the actual expenditure to the private sector. That total expenditures are bound to increase is beside the point.

    With decreased government expenditures, the wealthy can cut their taxes even further and with less government interference, can loot the public for even more money a la subprime mortgages, credit card fraud, shoddy products, contaminated food, etc.

  • DAY on June 01, 2011 10:33 AM:

    Meanwhile, in other parts of the planet, millions are dying of starvation, due to drought, wars, and biofuels. The "lucky" ones are spending up to 80% of their income on food. Speculators have discovered that foodstocks can be every bit as profitable as oil.

    sortici kusatsu

  • Anonymous on June 01, 2011 10:40 AM:

    Just who I want 'righting' the ship - Jack Kingston.

    This guy thinks "aft" is the sound a bad guy gets in a cartoon when he's hit in the nuts, and "port" is a wine drunk my elite coastal Liberals.

    I always forget about Kingston in "Dumbest MFers in Congress."
    He was a leader for years, but with the new crew, he seems restrained and ligical.

    God help this country.
    Republicans have no interest in doing so.

    ceresor However,
    Good advice CAPTCHA. Before I ceresor, make sure no one's looking, however.

  • stormskies on June 01, 2011 10:46 AM:

    And I am sure we can anticipate all the nightly news propaganda shows will all lead with the following story: "Today, the Repiglicans cut funding to the FDA that does not allow it to guarantee the safety in our food supply" .. if not, why not ? We all know the answers of course.

  • berttheclock on June 01, 2011 10:47 AM:

    If only it were the "Kingston Trio". More akin to the Kingston Tabernacle Choir with everyone of them off key. How apt Kingston's forte was insurance and the ag business.

  • Holmes on June 01, 2011 10:49 AM:

    All indications are the May jobs report is going to be abysmal.

    Manufacturing numbers are down: PMI was at 53.5% in May, sharply down from 60.4% in April. The employment index was at 58.2 and new orders at 51.0. All lower than in April.That PMI number is the lowest in 12 months.

    Housing is getting worse.

    We are teetering on the edge of a double-dip recession, due in large part to the cranks on the right and the deficit peacocks in the media who have made any more stimulus impossible.

    The President better get a backbone, new economic advisors, and a new economic message quickly, else he be a one-termer.

  • Ron Byers on June 01, 2011 11:27 AM:

    Stimulus is just that stimulus. Where Obama has failed in in the post stimulus phase. He needed to develop and announce an industrial policy. Instead he let the Republicans lead us down the tea party path.

    Obama is a splendid counter puncher, but his administration sucks at the vision thing.

  • JD on June 01, 2011 11:28 AM:

    Am I hopelessly naive in asking when the MSM is going to start covering stuff like this?

    It really is outrageous that the GOP is allowed to take action after action that seriously undermines the health and welfare of the people of the United States of America while the sector of our society that is supposed to watch out for the American people, the media, reports NOTHING about these depredations.

    We progressives cannot allow ourselves to get so jaded by the status quo that we lose the simple indignation that is aroused in decent people when the strong prey on the weak.

  • JD on June 01, 2011 11:31 AM:

    By the way, Steve, the silence of the MSM on all these important issues makes me more and more grateful for your tireless efforts to inform all of us about the threat the GOP poses to our common life.

    Once again, very heartfelt thanks.

  • chi res on June 01, 2011 11:31 AM:

    A society that has regular food safety incidents is a society that lives in fear. A society that lives in fear votes for republicans.

  • zeitgeist on June 01, 2011 11:41 AM:

    The GOP approach is misguided as a matter of public health, public safety, and budgeting.

    well, sure, if you care about health, safety, and budgets. but as welfare for ConAgra, the GOP approach is spot-on.

  • TCinLA on June 01, 2011 1:01 PM:

    The shorter version for all the posts here is:

    The GOP has its head up its ass. About. Everything.

  • jsjiowa on June 01, 2011 1:10 PM:

    Sounds like more Republican cost-shifting, instead of truly saving money. Let individuals be responsible for their own food, after all! And if they miss something in the inspection, then let them pay their own health care costs!

    Individual responsibility works for everything, at least according to conservatives.

  • Swift Loris on June 01, 2011 2:15 PM:

    "...end up paying a lot of money on health care costs when consumers get sick."

    Not only that, but the enormous administrative costs of trying to track down the food that has sickened the consumers and get it taken off the market once they find it.