After a Congressional battle that’s lasted for the better part of a century, President Obama signed the food safety bill into law on January 4, 2011.
Although an Associated Press tally reports that the economy looks healthier than in recent years (the growth in bankruptcies across the nation slowed considerably in 2010 since the recession), it hardly looks fit to take on the $1.4 billion required to make this legislation a reality. This is doubly true in light of the new GOP-led Congress.
GOP Opposition to Food Expert Insistence
Georgia Republican Rep. Jack Kingston, who will head the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the FDA’s budget, said to Bloomberg, “There’s a high possibility of trimming this whole package back.” He adds, “[I]f not for the wonderful nanny-state politicians, we’d be getting sick after every meal, the system we have is doing a dark good job.”
The CDC holds numbers that leave the sentiment up for a judgment call: 1 in 6 people fall ill from food they consume, 128,000 visit the hospital for said illness, and 3,000 die from it.
Kingston repeatedly claims that the number of cases of pathogen-caused illnesses does not justify the cost of President Obama’s new law.
“We still have a food supply that’s 99.99 percent safe,” he told The Washington Post, although one wonders from where he procured such a number. “No one wants anybody to get sick, and we should always strive to make sure food is safe. But the case for a $1.4 billion expenditure isn’t there.”
Hmm, 3,000 lives ain’t quite enough, eh?
Meanwhile, Erik Olson, director of Food and Consumer Product Safety Programs of the Pew Health Group, disagrees. “The costs of not implementing the law are staggering,” he says, citing the projected health costs of foodborne illnesses: an annual $152 billion.
Without the $1.4 billion, former associate commissioner of food of the FDA Dr. David Acheson says, “the public health impact of the new legislation will be compromised.”
What the Legislation Entails
As it currently stands, the legislation demands the following improvements among others not listed here:
· The FDA will have the license to order a mandatory recall of “dangerous” food. In the past, the FDA could only request that manufacturers deal with the matter by pulling the contaminated food off of store shelves.
· In addition to responding to contaminations, the FDA will work to prevent them.
· The food safety agency will announce scientifically-founded standards for safe food production and harvesting.
· An increased number of certified inspectors and investigators will be made available to increase the frequency of restaurant and other food facility inspections.
· The FDA will have tighter control and increased authority to inspect imported foods.
Legislation a Step, Not Cure-All
Acheson adds that while the legislation will be a milestone in public health and the food industry, it alone will not stop recalls or foodborne illnesses. “No legislation could do that,” he admits. “As we improve with epidemiological and molecular tools, I predict we will see more recalls and not less in the coming years. Ultimately, if the regulations are sound and the programs adequately funded and enforced, then we may see a gradual reduction.”
No part of this legislation is suspected of coming cheaply—an increased number of trained and certified staff being a key fund-eater. Still, at what cost comes the health of a nation’s people? The hospital bills of uninsured lower-income families will only add up to their existing debt, and if the government could spend literally 108 times the proposed $1.4 billion just to care for the people whose pain and suffering by the way cannot be fiscally compensated, why not take the precautionary step? Isn’t that kind of like being too cheap to buy toothpaste and then wondering why you’re paying up the nose after getting all your rotten teeth pulled out by the dentist? Isn’t the $1.4 billion, in fact, a sort of insurance policy for the American people and the food industry? Oh, right, Kingston doesn’t believe in affordable health care, either.