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Conservatives, Fancy A Splash Of E. Coli In Your Tea?

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Food safety isn’t some abstract concept up for debate, particularly after we all weathered the recent egg recall that left millions fearing if their breakfasts would make them sick.

Foodborne pathogens cause 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations and kill 5,000 annually in this country — and may contribute to long-term disease in more than 1 million Americans, according to estimates by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Furthermore, the total economic impact of foodborne illness across the nation is estimated to be $152 billion annually, according to the Pew Charitable Trust, which maintains a program advocating for improved food safety.

Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates 80 percent of our food supply, it does so with inadequate resources and under the terms of an obsolete law that dates to 1938.

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act would start to improve the situation, and would for the first time, give the FDA a mandate to inspect facilities and prevent contamination.

Republicans like to wail over “excessive regulation,” but if we need more regulation to keep roaches out of our food, and to prevent rats from dry-roasting in the peanuts from which my kids’ peanut butter is made, so be it.

The bill in question isn’t some extreme, partisan plan, either. It was approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee by a unanimous vote of Democrats and Republicans.

If Republicans want to run away from such common-sense protections for us, and our children, it is a shame on them. But let them walk.

A recent poll found that even many self-styled “tea party” activists support tighter business controls in several areas, including food safety. Nearly three-quarters of poll respondents support stricter regulation relating to food safety.

Every Democrat running for the Senate this year, no matter from which state, ought to put up a TV ad right away full of photos of young kids who have been sickened, and died, from foodborne illnesses.

With Democrats just one vote shy to get this important bill over the finish line, all of these candidates should pledge to be the deciding vote to pass better food safety.

Crafted with the right messages, and advertising, there is no reason why food safety couldn’t be — shouldn’t be — the defining issue for the 2010 elections.

Politicians always like to talk about standing up for families, and helping children. Well, this would be one concrete way to do it.

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About Scott Nance

  • dangermaus

    So, if Tea Party activists support food safety legislation, what’s your justification for making the childish statement about conservatives? Additionally, since the rules that prevented the FDA from acting (or so goes the claim) in Iowa have alread been changed, why do you think its a relavent example?
    If its so reasonable and non-extreme, why do most small farm groups claim that it will put many of them out of business? This bill was written for and by big agribusiness and is going to result in further centralization of the food supply, which is at the heart of most food poisoning, anyway.

  • What “childish” comment are you referring to? And do you offer any data to support your contention that this bill was “written for any by big agribusiness”?

  • Scott, I have to agree with Dangermaus that you’ve set up a strawman here. If congressional Republicans agree that this bill is a good idea, and Tea Party activists are also broadly in favour (which suggests that they don’t think food safety legislation constitutes “excessive regulation”), where’s this conservative opposition you’re complaining about? If it’s out there, why didn’t you cite it in your article?

  • Doug Hunter

    I don’t like the bill. It’s based on populist nonsense, will waste alot, accomplish little, and is an inefficient use of resources.

    To start with, like most advocacy groups, the CDC tends to magnify their problem with gross estimates. Drill down to the original research and you’ll get doozies like these:

    “the degree of underreporting
    has been estimated at ~38 fold” – So they just estimate and multiply with no further documentation…. brilliant.

    “we arbitrarily
    used a far lower multiplier of 2” – Aribitrarily? That’s study $$$ at work there.

    Let me break the facts down for you, there were about 1250 or so actual reported deaths from food borne disease, but the ‘arbitrarily’ decided to multiply this by 2 for the purposed of underreporting. Then they rather arbitrarily decided to multiply it by 2 again to account for food borne illnesses we may not be aware of coming to a nice round… 5,016 (why the extra 16 after they’ve been arbitrarily multiplying and estimating? I have no freaking idea except to make them sound like they know what they’re talking about)

    So, we have 1200-1300 reported cases. How many of those are from home preparation, old leftovers, food the kid left under the bed for a week and ate, etc?

    Beyond that, their own numbers indicate that only 1250 knows deaths occured from an estimated 38 million cases. Out of 38 million, more than 10% of the population, don’t you figure of few of them had extremely compromised immune systems or were otherwise susceptible to die from any type of infection? If other diseases are an indicator, the answer is likely a large percentage of them.

    The new expanded FDA can’t stop the at home preparation and storage issues. Many of the potential life savings may only extend immune compromised patients a few days, weeks, or months until another illness takes them down. The government will not be able to cut the number of outbreaks to zero, so at absolute best we could save somewhere between 0 and a few hundred lives (many of whom are likely critically ill anyway) and at what cost?

    Over a $billion annually adding to a ridiculous national debt. Increased food costs for the already struggling and poor. Increasing an already bloated federal bureacracy and creating red tape to crush small vendors, farmers, and upstart businesses in the food industry.

    I know it’s popular and the cause du jour, but when we have a half billion eggs recalled without a single reported death in a country of 300 million it sounds like the system is working to me.

    You can all fret and piss an moan about ‘food safety’. I’ve got more important things to worry about… like random lightning strikes or drowning in the bathtub.

    There, I said it.

    Look forward to my next comment about how I don’t like anything ‘for the children’ either 😉

  • Doug Hunter

    Let me restate that more succintly. This will save very few healthy lives, if any, and will be a costly regulatory burden. The reason it’s being done is because the media frenzy over food scares and recalls that actually kill very few provides an opportunity to do something that sounds good and is easy to communicate to the masses, like ‘helping the children’ Who could be against those things????

  • zingzing

    maybe it seems expensive to you. but let one of your kids die and bam! doug hunter, crusader will emerge. don’t you doubt it for a minute.

    we’re all selfish, angry beings, whether because we don’t want our money spent to protect other people’s kids (it’ll never happen to us), or because we can’t believe the government would let our kids die (it’s the government’s fault when shit like this happens). welcome to democracy! or whatever. your money gets spent in a lot of ways you don’t agree with. i don’t want to pay for secret prison camps in eastern europe. but hey. that’s life, isn’t it?

  • Doug Hunter

    zing, talking of my own kids and calling me selfish and angry are just more of the emotional appeals that frankly don’t work. If I was one of the tiny few healthy people who suffered this tragedy through a reasonably FDA preventable mechanism, it’s unlikely I would suddenly push for stringent government interference any more than if my kids died in a car accident I would want to outlaw vehicles or change the maximum speed limit to 25.

    The study and numbers that these recent pushes are based on is from 1999 consolidating data from prior to that. Why has it taken 11 years to get legs on this story? I’ll answer it for you, it’s an unpopular congress and it’s election time. They know media hype scare stories about food outbreaks have been occuring so this is the perfect time to play your emotions on the issue like a fiddle… and they have.

    If you want to convince me you have a perfect opportunity, just not through emotional appeal. Bush apparently slashed the FDA budget, the last study was done in 1999 before he took office. Perform a follow up now that the FDA is weaker using the exact methodology and show me exactly how much more dangerous the food supply is now with a weaker FDA. I’m confident that you’ll find very little difference between the two.

    I know a billion here and a billion there seems like nothing these days, but step back and think about how much good could be done with that. Could an extra billion for the FDA produce results… sure. It could also provide alot of food for the poor, unemployment benefits for those in the downturn, medical care for the indigent or those on medicare/medicaid and none of those require the creation of an intrusive bureacracy. (who will be bought off an beholden to big agribusiness anyway)

  • The “conservative opposition” currently consists primarily of one senator, Tom Coburn, who has been vague about his reason for holding up the bill. Individual senators can do that, y’know. Great country, eh?

    Hands-off extremist libertarians like Doug and also Dave Nalle seem to say, what are a few sick or dying kids or old folks if we can save the taxpayers some money and prevent the creation of more federal regulations? It’s pretty appalling.

    The spinach, peanut butter and egg scares, to name just 3 high-profile ones, were caused by preventable corporate malfeasance — companies deliberately operating unsafe processing plants. How is that different from murder if someone dies as a result? This should be illegal, and I absolutely want my government to crack down on that.

  • Doug Hunter

    Wow handy, malfeasance? Murder? The only one of the three you named that comes close to that in my mind are the eggs. Mass chicken farms are, and have always been, gross. At a significant added cost you can make them cleaner and safer. That’s a tradeoff that may be worth it. I’m not sure if they ever found the original source of the peanut butter, and the spinach farmer should be in the clear as far as I know. There may have been a water runoff issue from a cattle farm a mile away or it may have been spread by wild animals. I would suggest run of the mill ignorance is likely rather than malfeasance in that case.

    My impression was that Coburn blocked it because it wasn’t paid for. A suggestion would be to take the funds from farm subsidies, stop paying farmers not to farm and instead pay them to farm cleanly and safely. Also, tie the new regulations, funding, and bureacracy to success in solving the problem. No increased debt, bureacracy that only exists so long as it works, and everyone’s happy. See how easy the solution was.

  • zingzing

    doug: “zing, talking of my own kids and calling me selfish and angry are just more of the emotional appeals that frankly don’t work.”

    you know i wasn’t talking about you personally. but where do you think the uproar comes from? you posit that it’s partisan politics, and there might be some truth to that, but if your kid was killed by an egg knowingly sold by a company with slip-shod safety regulations, that’s very different from a car accident. i know i’d be pretty pissed. and sad.

    a few people die and no one cares, except their loved ones. and they get angry. it’s not an emotional appeal to you. you ask why people get so up-in-arms when this shit happens, i tell you why. that’s all.

    (and without the fda doing their work, yes, the food supply would be much more dangerous. hence the fda. maybe not everything they do is necessary. but neither is putting on a safety belt every time you get in a car. it’s that one time when it gives you a cut on the neck and a bit of whiplash instead of your face being spread over 35 feet of pavement that you thank it.)

    those billions could be spent elsewhere, that’s true. so legalize marijuana and prostitution (and tax the shit out of them). there, the fda is paid for.

  • Scott,

    I’ll never eat another peanut… yuk!

    Can you tell me why the, USDA, has power to inspect and in-force safety regulations?

  • You don’t have to PAY farmers to operate clean facilities. We will put the teeth back in the FDA.

  • Doug, You only show up when regulations and subsidies are mentioned, why?

  • like most advocacy groups? the CDC tends to magnify their problem with gross estimates.

    The Center for Disease Control is not an advocacy group.

  • Doug Hunter


    Glad you noticed. Frankly, I don’t give a damn what anyone does or thinks so long as they’re not trying to:

    A) tell me what to do (regulations)


    B) Further sink everyone, including me and my kids into the $13 trillion debt hole. We will be forced to pay for it although I fought getting into it at every step and have paid in many times over my share.

    As an adult human who has demonstrated my ability to make decisions for myself I think I’m owed at least that. I understand that the system is set up where it must place a little extra burden on me so that it can put a hand out to someone who who can’t take care of themselves. The system must regulate to the lowest common denominator because any semblance of freedom will be taken advantage of and ruined by certain percentag of the people who simply can’t handle it.

    I get some regulations and programs and see the need for taxes, but feel we are simply out of control right now. I’m not anti-tax (I’m much more anti-spend and anti-subsidize), I’d be willing to pay more if I didn’t think they’d simply take it and squander it plus an equal amount of borrowed $$$. We should set our tax rate at what’s best for the long term when considering both economic growth and government revenues (let’s not kill one for the sake of the other) and live within our budget or at least a reasonable amount of debt.

  • You haven’t been directly or indirectly affected by any corporations mistakes, neglect, or carelessness?

    People who vilify regulation don’t realize how bad things were without it.

    ;)Tamper-proof packaging saves lives…

  • Doug Hunter

    None of consequence. I’ve bought the designed to fail shit products form Walmart and had the billing/late fee fiasco a couple times, but those are minor issues. I’ve never personally known anyone who was severely sickened or killed by tainted food, although I know from the news that it does happen. (someone wins the lottery every day somewhere too, doesn’t mean it’ll ever happen to me and mine).

    Making blanket statements regarding ‘people who vilify regulations’ is a pretty broad brush. Alot of my last comment went to describe how I do see the need for government and regulation. I think percentagewise our government is a bit large now, they need to be more effective, less handouts and harassment and more targeted, smarter regulations and incentives.

    As you could guess, I’ve never been subject to corporate malfeasance on a large scale. I could as easily assume you’ve never been in a position to deal with or tried to build an business in an environment highly regulated by the government. It’s corrupt, it’s dirty, and you might come away with a different opinion as well.

    There are massive amounts of regulations for businesses, very few of them are ‘tamper proof packaging’ For every one common sense regulation, there’s another that’s there simply to provide job security for this or that official, member of a profession, or union, there are 2 more that are obsolete inapplicable or ineffective and only randomly enforced when the regulators want to harass someone, there’s another couple inserted by the major players grandfathering themselves in and placing new barriers to competition, and finally there’s one that requires this certain piece of equipment be used that of course is only made by one manufacturer who lobbied heavily to ensure it’s inclusion in the rules guaranteeing it’s sales. It’s a burdensome and corrupt system.

    Fewer regulations with better enforcement is preferable to mounds of regulations and lax enforcement.