President Obama Signs National Food Safety Bill

In January of this year, President Obama signed a $1.4 billion overhaul of the nation’s food safety system. It is the first major overhaul of the food safety system since the 1930s. It comes on the heels of several deadly outbreaks of E. coli and salmonella poisoning in peanuts, eggs, and produce in the past few years, and aims to reduce the estimated – by the CDC – 48 million Americans who are sickened every year by food borne illness. (Of that, 180,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.) The law emphasizes prevention through increased inspections of U.S. and foreign food facilities, allowing the FDA to order the recall of tainted food, the imposition of new safety regulations on producers of the highest-risk fruits and vegetables, and requiring processors to provide detailed food safety plans to the FDA. (The law exampts meat, poultry and processed eggs, since they are regulated by the Agriculture Department. Also exempt are some small businesses.)

Only right-wing Republicans would oppose such legislation … and they do.

The legislation was passed by a lame duck Congress with broad bipartisan support on a 73-25 vote in the Senate and by 215-144 in the House. However, the new Congress, elected before passage of the bill, has, through Tea Party influence, taken a sharp turn to the right. Because funding remains in the hands of the current Congress, it remains to be seen if the legislation will be given the funding it requires.

Here’s a sample of what the bill is facing. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., incoming chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, told Bloomberg News:

“There’s a high possibility of trimming this whole package back. While it’s a great re-election tool to terrify people into thinking that the food they’re eating is unsafe and unsanitary, and if not for the wonderful nanny-state politicians we’d be getting sick after every meal, the system we have is doing a darn good job.”

Is it Rep. Kingston’s opinion that the food safety system cannot be improved, or is his priority preventing processors from having to spend money to improve safety?

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