We’ve been saying this for a while. The produce industry has taken a big hit and their successful lobbying is one of the reasons. But it’s not just their fault. It’s also the fault of the Bush administration:
One of the worst outbreaks of foodborne illness in the U.S. is teaching the food industry the truth of the adage, “Be careful what you wish for because you might get it.”
The industry pressured the Bush administration years ago to limit the paperwork companies would have to keep to help U.S. health investigators quickly trace produce that sickens consumers, according to interviews and government reports reviewed by The Associated Press.
The White House also killed a plan to require the industry to maintain electronic tracking records that could be reviewed easily during a crisis to search for an outbreak’s source. Companies complained the proposals were too burdensome and costly, and warned they could disrupt the availability of consumers’ favorite foods.
The apparent but unintended consequences of the lobbying success: a paper record-keeping system that has slowed investigators, with estimated business losses of $250 million. So far, nearly 1,300 people in 43 states, the District of Columbia and Canada have been sickened by salmonella since April. (AP)
The food industry knows it screwed up. The tomato/jalapeno/whatever Salmonella episode will cost it billions. It is now ready for some meaningful regulations to provide tracking. There’s nothing surprising about a regulated industry not wanting more regulation, no matter how rational. Nobody likes to fill out paper or put barcodes on their products because the government says you have to. But Congress gave the FDA the authority to regulate the food industry under strong bioterrorism legislation. The Bush administration didn’t follow the wishes of Congress because the industry didn’t want strong regulations:
According to government records reviewed by the AP, business groups met at least 10 times with the White House between March 2003 and March 2004, as the FDA regulations were under debate. Food industry lobbyists successfully blunted proposals using arguments familiar in other regulatory debates: The government’s plans would saddle business with unnecessary and costly regulations.
Participants in the meetings included companies and trade groups up and down the food chain, including Altria Group Inc. and Kraft Foods Inc., when Altria was Kraft’s parent; The Kroger Co.; Safeway Inc.; ConAgra Foods Inc.; The Procter & Gamble Co.; the American Forest and Paper Association; the Polystyrene Packaging Council; the Glass Packaging Institute; the Cocoa Merchants’ Association of America; the World Shipping Council; and the Food Marketing Institute.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association spent $2.6 million on lobbying in 2003 and 2004, the period when the FDA rules were under consideration, according to federal lobbying records. The Food Marketing Institute spent $1.7 million during the period. The figures were for all lobbying by the trade groups and on their behalf.
The industry objections are the familiar ones. Too expensive, too much paperwork, the FDA was overstepping its authority, etc., etc. But Congress gave FDA the authority and one proper function of government is to make things happen that should happen for the common good even if not everyone likes it. As we have come to expect, the Bush FDA caved under pressure from the White House:
The White House Office of Management and Budget defended its meetings with food industry groups in 2003 and 2004, saying it regularly meets with companies and individuals with a stake in proposed government rules.
“Our door is open for anyone — from non-profits, industry representatives to individual citizens — who request meetings on regulations,” OMB spokeswoman Jane Lee said. “These are listening sessions in conjunction with personnel from the regulating agency.”
If you believe the Bush administration Office of Management and Budget’s doors are open to everyone to an equal extent, then I have a 1995 Volvo for you. Reasonably priced. Don’t pay attention to the fact it looks like a shit box. If you think the Bush OMB listens to all points of view, you don’t care how something looks, anyway.
178 days left.