The food safety landscape after the first year of the Obama administration remains very similar to the last year of the Bush administration….
During a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, President Obama gave himself a letter grade of B+ for his first year in office. But all the same, an ad hoc consortium of food safety professionals, food safety advocates, and food safety writers say he deserves some coal in his Christmas stocking. Food Safety News, the best online publication for all aspects of the safety of the global food supply, is running a list of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice this year in food safety. The list was created after polling those mentioned above, including your intrepid blogger. There was an overwhelming consensus that large chunks of coal should be deposited in the Christmas stockings of both President Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for the failure to name someone to lead USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, which monitors meat, poultry and eggs.
Sure, the President and Sec. Vilsack inherited huge problems…but after almost a year in office–and multiple Class I (you could die) recalls for contaminated beef–where’s the FSIS Under Secretary? Perhaps Santa himself will be delivering a sprightly, smarty-pants elf from Toyland, to monitor the nation’s food supply in 2010? Because elves might be the only individuals who can pass the conflict-of-interest test…which is the “official” reason no one has been appointed as Under Secretary for Food Safety. The President also gets some coal for attempting to let free trade trump food safety issues, and for his lunch visit to the aptly named Ray’s Hell Burger, which had been cited for food safety violations for under cooking its burgers. The FDA is also awarded coal on the naughty list, because it’s been engaging in the dubious activities cited below, and the entire Senate warrants mention, too.
The “Nice List” will be published tomorrow–and the President and Sec. Vilsack are on that list, too–but here’s the Naughty List:
NAUGHTY: President Obama for NOT appointing a new permanent U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Food Safety. ALSO NAUGHTY: USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack for making excuses about it. (See “FSIS Remains Leaderless,” Oct. 16, 2009)
NAUGHTY: The Senate for being too slow on health care reform to pass meaningful–and decades overdue–food safety legislation before the Holidays. (Ed. note: The House passed food safety legislation in July)
NAUGHTY: Secretary Vilsack and White House for trying, in the name of free trade, to roll over Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s (D-Conn) efforts to assure that the US does not permit poultry processors from shipping raw poultry meat from the US to China for processing and shipping back to the US for sale until USDA has determined that China’s inspection program is equivalent to ours. (See “Deal Reached on Poultry Imports,” Sep 27, 2009)
NAUGHTY: The FDA staff that keeps appealing to consumer advocates, “don’t set us up to fail,” when consumer advocates push for more inspection. They never say, “help us get the law and resources we need to protect people.”
NAUGHTY: J. Patrick Boyle of the American Meat Institute for trying to dynamite the Senate food safety bill even though it doesn’t have anything to do with the meat industry.
NAUGHTY: State public health department officials attending the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference in October who put industry profits ahead of public health.
When such broad and sweeping laws are proposed on a segment of the ag industry that is low risk, while high-risk and repeat offenders continue to escape without consequence, you will pardon us small growers for thinking that there's a major power grab going on.
Write the regs to address the perpetrators and those who enable them to game the system. If you leave the small growers alone, they won't "confuse" the political waters by trying to protect themselves from massive bureaucratic overreach.
As long as you comply with food safety regulations, your food can kill hundreds of people, and you will face no criminal repercussions. We do have a food safety problem in this country, and subjecting small-scale farmers and yogurt-makers to onerous new rules will not fix it. The vast majority of food deaths are caused by companies that are ALREADY INSPECTED by the FDA. Why do we think that we can make food safer by empowering the FDA to inspect the woman who sells vegetables are your local farmers' market? (And why do you think that lobbyists for agribusiness, like the Grocery Manufacturers Association, are urging Congress to do just that? It's no secret: http://www.gmabrands.com/news/docs/NewsRelease.cfm?DocID=1944 )
We can reduce death by food poisoning in the same way that we have reduced wrongful deaths for centuries: by criminal prosecution. If it is beyond a reasonable doubt that your negligence led directly to the death of another human being, then you should be a criminal. Why is it not so?
However, the statement issued certainly makes me wonder about how the outbreak was reported, and I'm inclined to think there's something odd about the sampling mechanisms used. I'd love to see the rebuttal on why it is "false information".