Sunday, September 18, 2011

Don't Eat

Budget cuts will literally kill people.

That's the takeaway from Joe Nocera's column in the New York Times, Killing Jobs and Making Us Sick.

We all recall the food borne outbreaks of E.coli over the past few years that included vegetables, meats and eggs. In response to that, groups across the political spectrum pushed to have a law that would tighten food inspection and punish producers who ignored health and safety guidelines. As Nocera says:

The result was a bill, the Food Safety Modernization Act, whose contours had the approval of both industry and groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest. It called for an overhaul of the inspection process, and applied tough new standards on food processors, food importers and foreign suppliers. The agency was required to do more foreign inspections, and use approved foreign governments or third-party auditors for importers. It had other important provisions to help prevent outbreaks of food-borne illnesses — and to track them down more quickly when they did occur. 

So far, so good, but then came the sticky issue: money.

As for paying for this overhaul, the bill included an eminently sensible mechanism: a fee on the industry. Originally set at $2,000 per food facility, it was whittled down to $500, which still would have raised an impressive $300 million. In 2009, when the bill came to a House vote, it passed with bipartisan support; even Michele Bachmann voted for it. 

In the Senate, however, with its ever-present threat of Republican filibuster, the fee never had a chance. Never mind that many of the biggest industry players supported the fee. Indeed, many in industry wanted the fee. To the Republicans, “fee” was code for “tax.” When the Senate finally passed the bill in late 2010, the fee was gone.

This is a perfect example of how right wing radical ideology hurts ordinary people. Republicans are almost begging for the food industry to fail because of lack of money for regulation that these businesses want, and that the public expects. Who in the private sector would step in to ensure the food supply was safe? The same people who produce the food? There's a recipe for failure.

My recommendation? Start the "2,000 Year Old Man Diet" tomorrow. That comes from the old Mel Brooks-Carl Reiner comedy routine where Brooks plays a two-millennium-year-old man who tells us what life was like way back at the dawn of the Common Era. What did they eat?

"Clouds, stars, rocks, cool mountain water...and a stuffed cabbage."


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