Sunday, March 8, 2009

Privatization of Food Inspections: BAD

Here's proof that putting our trust in the Conservative Ideology "Free Market System" can be dangerous to your (mental and physical) health.

Thanks to the President George W. Bush administration, we saw the privatization of food inspections and cuts to the FDA. According to a February 2007 AP article, there are 12% fewer FDA field employees now and “safety tests for U.S. produced food have dropped nearly 75 percent, from 9,748 in 2003 to 2,455 last year (2006), according to the agency’s own statistics.”

So "private auditors" have been monitoring (wink wink) major food plants. The Peanut Corp. of America, which used private inspectors, was shipping salmonella tainted peanuts for 9 months, putting corporate profit before public health and safety. Nine people died and 22,500 were sickened. Think about how many children eat peanut butter and jelly! 143 million pounds of beef was recalled in February of 2008. (Source:NY Times article below) Remember the tainted pet food last year? Remember the spinach contamination in 2006? Tomatoes? Oh but don't forget: Government isn't the solution, government is the problem. Yep.

Currently the FDA operates under a 1938 law that does not give it the authority to properly regulate our food supply. I found some encouraging info though: According to Tenn. State Rep. Bart Gordon Feb, 2009:

"The FDA cannot set common standards for state and federal inspections, can't require companies to take measures to prevent food contamination, and can't order mandatory recalls. There is also no system to track contaminated food back to the source, and the agency no longer has the resources to inspect food-producing facilities on a regular basis.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, of which I am member, began investigating the nation's food and drug safety systems last year. In the next few months, we will take up comprehensive legislation that will give the FDA the authority and resources it needs to modernize the nation's food and drug safety system.
This bill will give the FDA mandatory recall power, increase financial resources and enforcement authority, require companies to have a plan in place to prevent food contaminations, and create a food-tracing system."

The private inspector who (wink wink) "inspected" the peanut plant did not know that salmonella would grow in peanut butter. He was not instructed to inspect for salmonella. Perhaps the FDA should provide standards and guidelines for inspections?

Deregulation and less government oversight hasn't worked, whether it's our "just trust us" financial institutions or the safety of our food. And now the Republicans want to continue with their dangerous policies, putting their ideology before the urgency of this economic crisis. They are against government stimulus money to help our economy and prevent a Depression. But they are all for the government giving 800 billion to greedy and loan-reckless bankers, without any oversight whatsoever.

Here's some really important investigative journalism done by Michael Moss and Andrew Martin of the New York Times. Where was the media on this issue during the previous administration? And where was the Congressional concern when Bush made these cuts to the FDA?

Please read:
UPDATE 3/12: (From NPR News) " President Obama is expected to name former New York City Health Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to lead the troubled Food and Drug Administration."
The President is taking action! Read about Hamburg here: