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Ear to the Ground

Food Safety Bill Stalls

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Posted on Sep 18, 2010
Flickr / tina negus

Gaps in the nation’s food protection system became apparent in the recent recall of 500 million eggs.

If you need yet another example of how Washington just doesn’t quite work, a bill that aims to curb food contamination has stalled despite having broad bipartisan support, plus backing from President Obama and industry and consumer groups, and the fact that the House passed its version of the legislation more than a year ago.

Sure, politics rears its ugly head in everything from war to the economy to presidential appointments, but food safety? —JCL

The New York Times:

After his mother died from eating contaminated peanut butter, Jeff Almer went to Washington to push for legislation that might save others from similar fates. And then he went again. And again. And again.

Nearly two years have passed since Shirley Almer’s death. In that time, food contamination involving chocolate chip cookie dough and eggs has sickened thousands more.

But the Senate has still not acted to fix many of the flaws in the nation’s food safety system — although a bill to do so has broad bipartisan support, is a priority for the Obama administration and has the backing of both industry and consumer groups. The House passed its version of the bill more than a year ago.

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, September 20, 2010 at 3:25 pm Link to this comment

Not only do we need more effective governmental regulation over the FDA, Agriculture and public utilities, banking would be the next logical choice for oversight where self policing doesn’t work.

Only a government can impose sanctions against a multinational corporation, who, whether intentional or not, has harmed its nations citizens.

Corporate personhood needs to be abolished and more criminal liability placed on those heads who profit most from public consumption of dangerous products provided by them.

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By Inherit The Wind, September 20, 2010 at 3:51 am Link to this comment

As for me, I do not trust any insurance company, and
do not trust the government, either, so I’m screwed.
Katrina was proof enough for me that neither can be
trusted.

*************************

We are not SUPPOSED to trust our government.  We are SUPPOSED to hold the axe of un-electing them when they show such colossal incompetence.  There has NEVER been a failure of emergency response as there was during Katrina and it was TOTALLY due to the neo-con, now teabagger philosophy that Government should do nothing, but when it does ANYTHING it should serve the wealthiest and that will “trickle down”, like putting a cellar under an out-house.

Remember that Bush picked a politically reliable, but totally unprepared and incompetent horse trader to run FEMA. Brown didn’t even have good management experience, much less the expert knowledge needed. We haven’t seen such cronyism in the US since Reconstruction.  And, of course, since the Senate was run by the GOP, he was approved in a New York minute.

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By FRTothus, September 19, 2010 at 7:33 pm Link to this comment

With all due respect, FF, I must say that I’m with
you until you start talking about getting rid of OSHA
and would support instead mandatory (private)
insurance coverage, “rather than a bunch of
overworked, under-qualified, unaccountable (?*) FDA
government bureaucrats”.
*They are not unaccountable, and are more accountable
than corporate boardrooms, at any rate.  Where do
these guidelines, these protections, this exposure to
lawsuit stem if not US regulation, likely from the
from the very agencies you would shut down?  These
agencies, these laws were nonexistant not that long
ago, but were demanded and forced by labor’s (people
like you and me) popular support for those very
regulations?  People got their heads beat in and
National Guards and Pinkertons sic’d on them for
demanding these laws from a recalcitrant, look-the-
other-way government and the colluding businesses
that ran the elections, funded the politicians. 
Worker and Safety protection laws didn’t just happen. 
They were not granted from some benefactor on high.
Business, then and now, doesn’t give a damn about
you.  They want to exploit you, and want you to do
the same to others. 

As for me, I do not trust any insurance company, and
do not trust the government, either, so I’m screwed.
Katrina was proof enough for me that neither can be
trusted.  Theoretically, though, the federal budget
has much deeper pockets. And while I will grant you
that there is corruption in the civil service, again,
theoretically, it is far better to have such things
open rather than hidden behind boardroom doors at
for-profits, wouldn’t you agree? To the extent it is
corrupt, at least we the people have some power to
open it up and make it do what it is supposed to,
make it, our government, enforce the law, do we not?
If private insurance companies wish to offer more and
better, sure, let them.  They can and have gone broke
and denied claims and countless other cheats and
scams, and wouldn’t be circling around if those hard-
fought-for protection FROM corporate power laws were
not there in the first place, if history is any
guide.

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By ronjeremy, September 19, 2010 at 7:18 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

pretty sure the fda/usda does not have the authority to shut down anything or, in the case of the usda, order a recall.  to me, that is insane.  yes, a county/city health inspector can shut down a restaurant, but how often do they perform inspections?  i realize that the fda is the topic, but i tend to believe that government agencies are relatively the same.  in regards to insurance safety inspectors, i believe they would do a much better job.  no company is going to continue with a job or in business if they could be sued by a whole load of bereaved families and have to fork out more than they have

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By Inherit The Wind, September 19, 2010 at 5:26 pm Link to this comment

An insurance company can only act if the COURTS will defend it.  In other words, if the insurance company refuses to pay a claim when the dangerous business is sued by a victim, if the business can THEN sue the insurance company for payment, and the courts support the business, then your insurance company cannot prevent anything.  Of course, they can refuse coverage, but then the business can sue and say they are “discriminated” against.

It all depends on the courts, which are dependent on the government and the laws enacted.

For example, if you put up an above ground pool in your back yard and don’t get a building permit for it, if someone is injured or the pool fails and damages your property or your neighbor’s, the insurance company can refuse to pay the claim BECAUSE THEY KNOW THE COURTS WILL BACK THEM!

So it’s the government anyway, only a little more indirectly.

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, September 19, 2010 at 1:22 pm Link to this comment

Fat Freddy,

A government inspector can shut down a business and/or prosecute a violator, an insurance company inspector cannot.  He can only initiate the curtailment of insurance, that can be a lengthy process. 

In the world of combined corporatism the pharma company may own the insurance company or be heavily vested in it.  No, I believe it is a governmental responsiblity that what is advertised and sold for the citizens comsumption is properly portrayed and the appropriate warnings are indicated.

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Fat Freddy's avatar

By Fat Freddy, September 19, 2010 at 10:48 am Link to this comment

I think I come to these blogs just to have my words twisted, and my positions intentionally misrepresented. I went through an entire argument, complete with a real world example, about how it would be better for a private insurance company to handle safety concerns than a government agency only to be told that I don’t support cleanliness standards.

Here it is, twist it all you want: I would feel safer working on a large construction site with a safety inspector from the insurance company than I would on one with an OSHA inspector. Similarly, I would feel safer eating in a restaurant that was inspected by an employee of an insurance company, than a government inspector. If you scroll down, you can read my argument. If you would like to discredit my premises for this argument, feel free. But please do not misstate my conclusion. I can tell you, I’ve worked on many construction sites, and put my life on the line regularly. Insurance company inspectors are Mother Fuckers (you can quote me on that), but the job is much, much safer.

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By Inherit The Wind, September 19, 2010 at 9:39 am Link to this comment

I love it! FF doesn’t want cleanliness standards enforced because the free market will take care of it!

If YOUR kid is sickened by a poisoned burger are YOU going to take comfort in you friends and neighbors not going there?  Wouldn’t it be better if a health inspector closed them down BEFORE your kid got sick?
How long does it take to get around that a restaurant is selling tainted food if it has to rely on the market and not news?  And even once it makes the news, if it can’t be PROVEN, you KNOW the restaurant is going to sue that newspaper/TV station for libel or slander and THEN they’ll be afraid to publish such stories.  Even if they have the FACTS it’s too expensive.  Better to let MORE people get sick…

But if the health inspector closes the place down the media is safe from retribution.

Come out of your ivory tower and face the real world!

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Fat Freddy's avatar

By Fat Freddy, September 19, 2010 at 9:08 am Link to this comment

Sorry, my last comment was intended for another thread.

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Fat Freddy's avatar

By Fat Freddy, September 19, 2010 at 8:31 am Link to this comment

ITW

Regarding the patent medicines of the 1890s. Many of those were fraudulent or misrepresented. No one I know of would support the repeal of the prohibition of fraud. Besides, they were exposed by the print media long before the government did anything, and all the government really did, at first, was require proper labeling. And that still hasn’t stopped them completely. We still have “natural”, or “herbal” remedies.

The pharma execs need to be held criminally responsible for placing dangerous drugs on the market. With the FDA, they have an excuse to not be held accountable. How many people went to jail over Vioxx or Seldane? How many should have gone to jail? If they were put in jail, what kind of message would that have sent to other manufacturers? No, instead the government protects these people, not consumers. They may tell you that by doing this they are indirectly protecting consumers. It’s all a big scam, just like the financial industry. The FDA provides “cover”.

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Fat Freddy's avatar

By Fat Freddy, September 19, 2010 at 7:37 am Link to this comment

Inherit The Wind

So, do we need more police, and more safety inspections to get that number down even further? Do we keep going, regardless of the cost to consumers and taxpayers until there are zero deaths? Where do you draw the line? Considering that more people eat, than drive on the highway, 9,000 compared to 40,000 is a pretty good number, don’t you think?

If people were getting sick at McDonald’s, and those cheesy diners, how long do you think they would remain in business? The State of NJ passed a law that banned partially cooked eggs. Yeah, that’s right, no runny eggs. That law didn’t last very long, thankfully. Is that what you want? Or should people be made aware of the risks, and be allowed to make up their own damned minds?

Here’s something I posted on another thread:

The FDA doesn’t really protect you. How can you expect an organization to protect you, that can’t be held accountable for their decisions? How many FDA workers, or directors have been fired, fined or placed in jail for making the wrong decision? None. They are federal employees, and can not be held responsible, by law. Does the FDA really protect you, or just give you a false sense of security?

Do you think that maybe, a private, third-party with a vested interest could do a better job? Let me ask you a question. Last month there was an egg recall. How many of those eggs came from Kosher farms? “Free Range” farms?

No company wants to sell products that are going to hurt or kill people. That’s bad for business. But people make mistakes, and become complacent. That’s why businesses purchase insurance. The insurance company has a vested interest in whether or not the company’s products are safe. They can be sued. Their safety inspectors can be fired if they make a mistake. When the government creates an agency, like the FDA, they are only doing the job that the insurance company should be doing. So, basically, your tax dollars are being used to subsidize the insurance companies, and in turn, subsidize the business, because they now pay lower rates on insurance.

I’ve been on some very big construction jobs. Worker safety is a primary concern. Why? Because of the unions? Because of OSHA? No. Because of the insurance company. The insurance company sends an on-site safety inspector who has the authority to shut down the job for any reason, at any time. There is no need for OSHA. If there is an accident that could have been prevented, that safety inspector can be fired, or even prosecuted, if there was criminal negligence, and the insurance company can be held financially liable. If there are no accidents, he can receive a bonus. That’s a vested interest, which the government does not and can not have. Would you feel safer on a job site with an insurance company inspector, or an OSHA inspector? Now, apply that to the food processing plants.

Personally, I would much rather support mandatory insurance coverage, rather than a bunch of overworked, under-qualified, unaccountable FDA government bureaucrats.

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, September 19, 2010 at 7:35 am Link to this comment

FF, wait for the speedpass license plate which monitors your speed via GPS.  Move over onstar.

We have too many police.

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By Inherit The Wind, September 19, 2010 at 7:01 am Link to this comment

Again, FF is talking through his hat.  The number of deaths per driver mile and per 100,000 drivers has been cut nearly in half due to the federal safety regulations.  Without them, there would be 80-100,000 deaths on the highway per year.

What a HORRIBLE idea that food manufacturers should have to submit to the same cleanliness standards that every MacDonalds fast-foodery or New Jersey diner must!  SOCIALISM! COMMUNISM!  You should be PROUD to take your chances that some food producer is or isn’t taking chances with YOUR kid’s safety!

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By FRTothus, September 19, 2010 at 6:34 am Link to this comment

Thank you, “Hank from Nebraska”, for filling in between
the lines, for showing us the missing piece.  I have
found it personally effective to remember, as a general
rule, that we will get only a (pro-corporate) half-
truth out of the MSM, at best, and the challenge is
then to discover why we are being told, what they are
not telling us, whose voice is left out, who stands to
gain, and who stands to lose.
Respect.

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Fat Freddy's avatar

By Fat Freddy, September 19, 2010 at 4:45 am Link to this comment

Hank from Nebraska

Nobody cares about the small, family farmer anymore. I am convinced that many liberal/progressives want big-ag. They just want them to do it their way. Whatever that is.

About 9,000 people die from food related deaths per year. You have to figure about 10-15% are the result of personal mishandling of food and cross contamination. Now, compare that to the 40,000 that die in car accidents every year. I guess we need a highway safety Bill, as well, to give police more power and provide more frequent inspections.

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By Ed from California, September 18, 2010 at 4:01 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hank from Nebraska is exactly right.  Judge the value of the bill by who creates/supports it: in this case Big Ag.  This bill is a power-grab by the FDA.  Already ineffectual at preventing many thousands of deaths per year from dangerous and/or ill-prescribed drugs, the FDA now wants to apply ham-fisted regulations on small farmers (virtually nothing will change for Big Ag which is already under inspection scrutiny.)  The plant that produced the contaminated peanut butter did so by violating existing laws and regs, not to mention common decency - the USDA/city/county/state simply weren’t enforcing existing regs (the plant had been cited numerous times for filth).  This law is simply an indemnification for big Ag: if there is another outbreak under this law, it allows for the instant point-back to the source of origin (the farmer, large or small) and away from the factory, from where the contamination most often stems.  I saw an FDA person at a farm conference bragging about this bill - and she said that she never lets her children eat raw fruits and vegetables.  This is the mindset that is about to be imposed: only food from factories will be allowed from now on, because factory food fits easily into the government model, and of course, maximizes corporate control/profit.  Be aware folks, and start supporting your local food producers before that choice is taken away from you!

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By Hank from Nebraska, September 18, 2010 at 11:34 am Link to this comment

As mentioned in this NYT article, small farmers are very worried that the new regulations would impose substantial fixed costs on them.  Indeed, the opposition to the bill is legitimate.  We need to actively support local and organic producers, who are a fight for existence with the dominant food conglomerates.  This bill that passed the house and, as mentioned in the NYT article, has “broad bipartisan support, backing from President Obama and industry and consumer groups” is shamelessly designed to wipe out organic and other small producers in the name of “consumer safety.”  Remember, big agriculture helped to write this bill, so the inspection procedures, the per farm costs, and the test guidelines favor large producers, industrial agriculture, and large-scale monoculture.  It is easier to inspect a few large producers than thousands of small local producers, so even some alleged “consumer groups” favor regulations designed to deal with large scale operations. 
As a consumer of organic and local foods, I am scared to death by this bill.  It is better that the current bill die a quiet death.

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