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Dec 06 2010

Pique the Geek 20101205: The Food Safety Modernization Act

After the food contamination incidents over the past couple of years, the Congress has put forth a revamp of food safety law in the United States.  This bill bass the House back in 2009 and was tied up in the Senate until last week.  The Senate passed its version (with amendments) and so it has gone back to the House for either passage of the Senate version or to head for a conference committee for resolution.

This act (S. 510) has created an outcry from both the extreme right and some “back to nature” types on the left.  Herein we shall examine some of the key provisions of the proposed law and make some judgments.  My personal feeling is that it will die before the Congress completes action on other, critical legislation like the tax issue, unemployment benefits, the federal debt ceiling, and funding the government, but who knows?

I have done quite a bit of research on this legislation and find it, for the most part, a pretty good thing.  It is designed to be proactive in that it stresses prevention of the production and distribution of contaminated or adulterated food rather than just merely reacting to an event after it occurs.  Certainly, there are reactive provisions as well, but prevention is the primary focus.

The legislation specifically applies to the following operations (from the summary posted http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill… (This is from Title I [Improving Capacity to Prevent Food Safety Problems] of the bill):

…each person (excluding farms and restaurants) who manufactures, processes, packs, distributes, receives, holds, or imports an article of food permit inspection of his or her records if the Secretary believes that there is a reasonable probability that the use of or exposure to such food will cause serious adverse health consequences or death.

Note that farms and restaurants are specifically exempted.  This becomes important later.  There is also a part that delays implementation for small businesses until a later date, the specifics of which I have not been able to find.  It is a long bill.  Each operation specified above has to pay a $500 annual registration fee and comply with the recordkeeping requirements.  The thrust of the bill is to require such establishments to conduct proper hazards analyses and implement controls to reduce the probability that contamination or adulteration will occur.

Title II of the bill addresses Improving Capacity to Detect and Respond to Food Safety Problems.  It reinforces procedures already in place to respond to potential outbreaks and requires that the CDC, USDA, and EPA to work with FDA to monitor and respond to food borne outbreaks.

Title III addresses imported food and is titled Improving the Safety of Imported Food.  As a former official with FDA, I can tell you that there are lots of problems with imported food, especially that from China and Mexico.  Mexico usually has problems with microbial contamination, but China has problems with outright adulteration.  Banned antibiotics in shellfish and honey is a common problem, along with banned pesticides and coloring agents.  I am sure that everyone remembers the pet food adulterated with melamine a couple of years ago to make its protein content artificially high.

It is said that China is transitioning to “State Capitalism”.  I would suggest that it is instead transitioning to laissez faire mercantilism and that much more stringent controls on Chinese imports are needed, and not just food products.  Everything from their very currency to steel to cheap, toxic toys are suspect.  In my personal life I have started examining food labels and will not buy anything imported from China, and am cutting down on other Chinese imports, but that is difficult since our markets are flooded with them.  But this is a digression.

Title IV, Miscellaneous Provisions addresses appropriations for FDA components, establishes whistleblower protections for employees of entities covered under the bill, requires with existing treaties, and requires some research activities for safe transportation of food.

No where in this bill have I seen any mention of restriction of our freedoms, but rather sound actions that would increase food safety.  Speaking from my professional experience, I can tell you that there are many more foodborne illnesses than are ever reported or even recognized.  We need this bill to become law.

Let us look at who supports and opposes this bill.  First, The SOBber from the Fox “News” Channel says that signing this bill into law will be the last screw, and that the government will “control your food, so they will control YOU!”  As a matter of fact, I became reacquainted with this mostly good bill because of one of his diatribes against it.  Generally, if The SOBber is against something, it may actually be a good idea.

Let us look at the Senate next.  This list gets a little long, but it is important.  S. 510 was sponsored by Richard Durbin (D, IL) and cosponsored by

Lamar Alexander (R, TN)

Jeff Bingaman (D, NM)

Richard Burr (R, NC)

Roland Burris (D, IL)

Robert Casey (D, PA)

Saxby Chambliss (R, GA)

Christopher Dodd (D, CT)

Michael Enzi (R, WY)

Al Frankin (D, MN)

Kirsten Gillibrand (D, NY)

Tom Harkin (D, IA)

Orrin Hatch (R, UT)

John Isakson [R-GA]

Edward Kaufman [D-DE]

Edward Kennedy [D-MA]

Amy Klobuchar [D-MN]

Robert Menéndez [D-NJ]

Ben Nelson [D-NE]

Tom Udall [D-NM], and

David Vitter [R-LA]

So, 14 Democrats and seven Republicans were cosponsors.

Let us look at the final vote from 20101130:

Except for Sam Brownback (R, KS) and Christorpher Bond (R, MO), all of the Senators voted.  EVERY Democrat voted for the bill.  It passed, 73 to 25.  The 25 Republicans voting against it were:

Jefferson Sessions and Richard Shelby, both (R, AL)

Jon Kyl and John McCain, both (R, AZ)

Saxby Chambliss and John Isakson, both (R, GA).  Both were cosponsors of the bill.

Michael Crapo and James Risch, both (R, ID)

Pat Roberts, (R, KS)

Jim Bunning and Mitch McConnell, both (R, KY)

Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, both (R, MS)

John Ensign, (R, NV)

Thomas Coburn and James Inhofe, both (R, OK)

Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham, both (R, SC)

John Thune, (R, SD)

Bob Corker, (R, TN)

Robert Bennett and Orin Hatch, both (R, UT).  Hatch was a cosponsor of the bill, and

John Barrasso, (R, WY)

So, three Republican cosponsors voted AGAINST the bill that they helped come to the floor of the Senate.  What gives here?  Well, Chambliss is just nuts, and Isakson is not far behind.  Hatch is often unpredictable, and was in this case as well.

Here are some of the more nutty criticisms of the bill, other than The SOBber’s general dislike of anything other than tax cuts for the rich.  Or, more money for him.

I read that this bill would outlaw local farmer’s markets.  Nothing of the sort is included in it.  The bill specifically exempts farming operations.  The critics point out that “distribution” is included in the bill, and the word is used.  However, since farmers are specifically excluded from the bill, this is a bogus criticism.  Even it that were true (and it is not) small businesses are exempted for the provisions of this bill for some amount of time that, as I said before, is not clear.  I call this argument against the bill busted, as Adam and Jamie like to say.

Another attack that I have seen is that saving heirloom garden seeds will be against the law, if this bill is signed.  I never cease to be amazed at how far the extremists will lie to try to make their point.  They indicate that Big Ag (with which I have some fundamental issues, by the way, but that is a matter for another post) have conspired with the sponsors of this law to make saving seeds illegal.  That is just as incorrect as it can be.

Still another one is that the produce or livestock that you personally grow and eat, give away, sell, or preserve is subject to this law.  NOTHING in this bill has anything to do with that.  It is just another lie manufactured by the wingnuts to try to stimulate opposition to what is pretty much a good bill.

I even saw one that said that if you cook garden produce in your own kitchen that you could be convicted of a felony and imprisoned for up to 10 years if you do not pay the $500 annual fee!  Again, nothing in this bill says anything about such an eventuality.  It is just made up from whole cloth, and is a lie.

http://www.healthranger.org/ is a hoot of a site, supposedly maintained by one Mike Adams.  I tried to find independent information about him, but did not find much.  He seems to make his money from self promotion, and his claims about the Department of Homeland Security taking over your garden is just a lie, pure and simple.  I offer this to you for your amusement.  I really like the personal bio part where he shows off his boff bod and even tells you his resting heart rate.  Too much information for me!  LOL!  I mention it because it is associated with another of his sites, an extract about this very subject being presented http://www.naturalnews.com/030418_Fo….  Note that the links that he uses are from fringe sites, some of them that might be under his control.

Now, let us visit the extreme right side of the argument.  This http://www.redstate.com/mattkibbe/20… is from the wingnutty Red State site, and it is more interesting after one drills down a bit.  After you skim the post, allow me to illuminate the subject a bit.  Please take 30 seconds or so.

Hmmmm, hmmmm, hmmmm, roll a Prince Albert cigarette, and the 30 seconds are now done.  Does that propaganda from an extreme right wing site sound like that from the one just before?  I think that it does.  Now for more.

Let us look at the author.  His name is Matt Kibbe.  Matt Kibbe, whence do I remember him?  Oh, now I remember!  He is the president and CEO of Freedomworks, the Dick Armey extreme tea party tax exempt group!  Now it makes sense, and why The SOBber was so against the new bill.  How about a bit more about Kibbe?  (My fingers try to spell it as “Kibble”).  Here is an excerpt from his bio at Red State, in observation of the Fair Use provision.

Before joining FreedomWorks, Mr. Kibbe’s career spanned the worlds of academia, business, and lawmaking. He served as Chief of Staff and House Budget Committee Associate for U.S. Representative Dan Miller (R-FL); Director of Federal Budget Policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Senior Economist for the Republican National Committee during Lee Atwater’s tenure as Chairman; and Managing Editor of Market Process, an academic economics journal published by the Center for the Study of Market Processes at George Mason University.

Mr. Kibbe started his professional career at Citizens for a Sound Economy, serving as a policy analyst in the mid 1980s. Matt did graduate work in the economics department at George Mason University and received his BA in Economics from Grove City College.

Mr. Kibbe has written extensively on economics, public policy and politics. His writings have appeared in outlets such as USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, TownHall.com, RedState.com, American Spectator, The Washington Times, and Reason Magazine.

Under Mr. Kibbe’s leadership, FreedomWorks fights for lower taxes, less government, and more freedom using an impressive network of hundreds of thousands of volunteers, including citizens, community leaders, cyber activists, and bloggers across the nation.

NOW he is an expert on gardening!  His bio did not use proper italics or boldface for his associations, and I will not alter them to conform with more easily read material.  I will just point out some of his links to what I consider to be less than honest organizations and people, viz.

FreedomWorks

Chief of Staff and House Budget Committee Associate for U.S. Representative Dan Miller (R-FL)

Director of Federal Budget Policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Senior Economist for the Republican National Committee during Lee Atwater’s tenure.  I have to make the observation that Lee Atwater was one of the most viscious, and most hateful person that the Republicans ever used.  On his deathbed he sort of recanted for being so evil.  You can decide why for yourself.

Grove City College

The Wall Street Journal

American Spectator

The Washington Times

What a resume!  That would make ANYONE an expert about gardening and farming, no doubt!

I believe that I have made my point.  This bill needs to be enacted into law.  It does nothing to restrict what we can grow in our back yards, or even on a few acres and take to the farmer’s market.  It DOES require big food processing companies to be responsible for their products, and any illness that those products cause.

Your thoughts are welcome on this controversial issue.

Well, you have done it once again!  You have sacrificed many einsteins of photons to read this poorly baked post!  And even though Senator Jeff Sessions tells us all where his pot of gold is when he reads me write it, I always learn much more than I could possibly hope to teach by writing this series.  So please keep comments, questions, and corrections coming all of the time!

Remember, I will stay here as long as new comments arrive, and I call it Comment Time.  Tomorrow around after Keith is done, it is Review Time, and I will address any late thoughts then.  Please also remember that no scientific or technical issue is ever is off topic here.

Warmest regards,

Doc

Crossposted at Docudharma.com and at Dailykos.com

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