Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Obama sees food safety as vital, even if it doesn’t pay off politically

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Originally published on on Tue, 03/17/2009 – 1:34pm

From The Onion: FDA approves salmonella

If this headline had occurred before January 20, 2009, you might not think it was from The Onion. Food safety has suffered in this country like no other era since “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair.

And even though President Obama has a lot on his plate, a buffet, if you will, of problems going on in this country, he is taking desperately needed time to devote to improved food safety.

Obama has a new FDA chief nominee in Dr. Margaret Hamburg. There is the cabinet-level panel — the Food Safety Working Group — to advise him on ways to improve food safety laws.

We had the announcement last week that downer cattle — cows too sick or weak to stand on their own – would permanently be banned from slaughter. This decision would have seemed obvious years ago.

Beef, tomatoes, spinach, peanut butter, and a whole lot more — these are just some of the foods that have been in danger in the last few years.

When the government does not inspect 95 percent of food processing plants, the issue is as Obama described it, “a hazard to the public health.”

In a time where the U.S. can be criticized for a declining manufacturing base, the one thing we do make is food. Right now, we don’t have a lot of credibility.

Food safety is a nice catch phrase, but Obama, his Cabinet members, and the panel et al need to know that there are holes in several different areas within the process.

How products were taken off shelves in recalls for the last eight years didn’t seem pro-consumer. There is help in this area: discussion in California about incorporating supermarket checkout scanners to spot food products that have been recalled.

We have the FDA and the USDA. But the FDA sticks mostly to drugs, and the USDA is in the role of promoting food and inspecting food, a clear conflict of interest. Even if Republicans scream, we need to create an agency to run alongside the USDA. Have the USDA promote or inspect food, but not both.

Our system of farming adds to this overall crisis. Factory farms are doing damage to the process. Sen. John McCain made fun of money been spent on the hog smell, but those who live near factory farms know the suffering is bad.

The smell isn’t the worst of it, as we saw how factory farm manure runoff affected the spinach crop. Spinach wouldn’t naturally have e.coli issues.

In the first decade of the 20th century, it took a book to change the way food safety was handled. In the first decade of the 21st century, Michael Pollan has several books alone, and only now is the topic finally getting some hearing in the circles of power.

Politically, these areas of needed improvement aren’t always viable in terms of talking points to promote a president. “Here are the people who didn’t get sick from eating food” isn’t a feasible photo-op.

Three years from now, when President Obama is running for re-election, he will hopefully point to many accomplishments. Improving the food safety may not seem high on the list, but having fewer people get sick from eating food should be trumpeted as a improvement, even if it seems something the government should get right without trying too hard.


Written by democracysoup

March 17, 2009 at 1:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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