The past three Presidential Administrations have all made use of the tactic known as the "Friday news dump." The Bush Administration, in particular, would routinely drop bad economic news and noxious acts of environmental deregulation on Fridays, often Friday evenings, to avoid widely-seen news coverage, the thought being that fewer people read or otherwise attend to the news on Saturdays and therefore these actions--in Bush's case usually naked concessions and political "payback" to polluters and industry groups friendly to Republicans--would be less likely to be scrutinized or even noticed by the public.
Yesterday the Obama Administration turned the Friday news dump on its head, once again demonstrating what it means to be living under a regime that actually works to benefit the American public, rather than to actively harm it.
Two years ago President Obama signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the most sweeping overhaul and reform of our Food Safety laws in 70 years. According to the FDA website, the law
[A]ims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it..
The last overhaul of our food safety regulations occurred in 1938. The FSMA legislation was one of the last acts of the 2010 Congress and was opposed by Republicans, 73-25. As the Washington Post explains, yesterday, and pursuant to the Act, the FDA issued the first of what are expected to be a panoply of proposed new rules affecting food safety in this country:
The long-awaited proposals by the Food and Drug Administration are part of a fundamental change aimed at preventing food-borne outbreaks — caused by everything from leafy greens to canteloupes to peanut butter — rather than simply reacting to them. Every year, contaminated foods sicken an estimated 48 million Americans and kill 3,000.House Republicans, the same people who will claim to represent Americans' interests in the coming debt ceiling debate, have attempted to derail the regulations by cutting the FDA's budget, leading Nancy Pelosi to dub them the "E. Coli Club."
The rules, which span 1,200 pages, are aimed at creating safer conditions from farm to fork. Produce farmers would be required to ensure that their crops aren’t contaminated by bad water or animal waste. Some will likely be compelled to build fences to keep out wildlife and to provide adequate restrooms and hand-washing facilities for field workers.
Food-processing companies would be required to design and document an exhaustive regimen of sanitary measures — from pest control to bathroom cleanliness to what workers wear on the factory floor.
“I say to them: Do you have children who breathe the air? Do you have grandchildren who drink water? I’m a mom, I have five kids,” continued Pelosi, who now has several grandkids. “As a mom, I was vigilant about food safety, right moms? If you could depend on the government for one thing, it was that you had to trust the water that they drank and the food they ate.”Republicans, on the other hand, argue that the food supply is "99.9% safe." Thus far the Senate has not moved to restore the FDA's funding, and looming FDA cuts are part of the sequestration.
“But this is the E. coli club. They do not want to spend money to do that,” said Pelosi
As noted in the article, one in six Americans suffers from foodborne illnesses each year, leading to 130,000 hospitalizations and 3000 deaths per year, and costing the country approximately 152 billion dollars per year in health care and related expenses, according to Georgetown University. The FDA's Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor expects the new regulations to "significantly reduce that number." The FDA is responsible for about 80% of the food Americans eat. The rest--meat, poultry and some eggs--is the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture.
This is the type of "wasteful government regulation" which we heard about ad nauseum from Mitt Romney and his Republican cohorts. Romney's "Economic Plan," such that it was, specifically addressed government regulations:
Romney would only allow new regulations if the cost was offset by eliminating other regulations.Romney never specified what "other regulations" he would have dispensed with to "allow" Americans the privilege of uncontaminated food and water. This is the norm from a Republican Party always willing to castigate government regulations, but never willing to say precisely which ones they are talking about. The reason for that, of course, is that most governmental regulations are considered and make a hell of a lot of sense.
To its credit, the produce industry and much of the rest of the food industry have come to support the new rules, recognizing that sickness and death from contaminated food are bad for business, and they applaud the Rules' flexibility in targeting the most "at-risk" types of food products; the farm rules, for example, target berries, fruits and leafy greens that are commonly eaten raw and unprocessed.
Such flexibility, along with the growing realization that outbreaks are bad for business, has brought the produce industry and much of the rest of the food industry on board as Congress and the FDA has worked to make food safer.Any regulatory action that gleans support from the businesses it targets, particularly conglomerates as powerful as the giant agribusinesses affected here, certainly deserves close scrutiny. Still, these regulations are only the forerunners:
In a statement Friday, Pamela Bailey, president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents the country's biggest food companies, said the food safety law "can serve as a role model for what can be achieved when the private and public sectors work together to achieve a common goal."
The farm and manufacturing rules are only one part of the food safety law. The bill also authorized more surprise inspections by the FDA and gave the agency additional powers to shut down food facilities. In addition, the law required stricter standards on imported foods. The agency said it will soon propose other overdue rules to ensure that importers verify that overseas food is safe and to improve food safety audits overseas.One of the undeniable benefits of living in this country is the implicit assurance that the food we eat and the water we drink is safe. As anyone who has travelled or lived overseas--or even across our southern border--knows, that is simply not the case for much of the rest of the planet. These regulations, the product of a collaboration between an engaged Congress and Executive Branch, will help ensure that our food remains safe.
These regulations are what good government is all about. But there is still ample opportunity for the Republicans to de-fund and destroy them.