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From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, October/November 2010

RIP, Food Safety Legislation?

by Pat McGee

PATRICK McGEE

I am writing this letter on November 3, one day after the GOP’s massive gains in the midterm election, in which they were projected to gain at least 60 seats in the House. That’s the biggest gain by any major party since 1948.

The Democrats were clotheslined by unemployment that is still hovering near 10% and an anti-establishment backlash fueled by the Tea Party movement, which roared onto the political scene in 2009.

Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), who will likely lead the House following the GOP’s gains, wasted little time in laying out his party’s plans for the future. He said the results had given Republicans a mandate to cut government, starting with the “monstrosity” that is the Obama administration’s healthcare plan, parts of which are just taking effect.

“The American people are concerned about the government takeover of health care,” Rep. Boehner said. “I think it’s important for us to lay the groundwork before we begin to repeal this monstrosity and replace it with common sense reforms that will bring down the cost of health insurance in America.”

If you work in the food industry or are just a concerned consumer, this should be cause for concern, whatever your political persuasion. The issue of food safety, which came to the forefront in the wake of numerous food recalls over the last few years, seemed to disappear from the radar last year as the battle over healthcare reform was fought.

Many thought that once the healthcare battle was over, lawmakers could move onto passing and enacting food safety legislation with widespread support from both industry and the public.

The Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) passed the House as HR 2479 overwhelmingly last July before moving on to the Senate, where it languished. But it never came up for a vote during the Senate’s session, rendering it “effectively dead,” food safety attorney Bill Marler wrote in a statement on his firm’s website (www.marlerclark.com) on September 16.

With this shift in the political landscape, however, the act goes from being “effectively dead” to simply dead. This is not because Republicans oppose regulatory reform for food safety (the majority don’t appear to) but because of the simple realities of the lawmaking process in our country. Rep. Boehner’s promise to deal with the Obama administration’s healthcare reform could mean another year, if not two, of political wrangling to hammer out a compromise.

And with every day that goes by, the issue of food safety will recede further and further from the minds of the general public, whose anger over recalls roused the government to action in 2008 and 2009.

It’s perverse to say, but perhaps more recalls might be a good thing, a reminder that foods like peanut butter, spinach, and eggs can be deadly without comprehensive food safety legislation to help ensure their safety.

Sincerely,
PATRICK McGEE
Editor
pmcgee@wiley.com

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