More than one year after Barack Obama won the presidential election, and nearly ten months after his inauguration, the current administration’s efforts to improve our food safety system have stalled. For example:
- We are still waiting to hear who will fill the key post of Undersecretary for Food Safety at USDA.
- Food safety legislation, which passed the House on July 29th, is taking a back seat to health care reform and is unlikely to pass the Senate this year.
- FDA’s backbone is as stiff as a strand of spaghetti, as shown by the Agency’s cave-in last week over raw oyster safety policy.
President Obama and his “team” have given very little concrete direction to legislators working on food safety reform. His Administration apparently prefers to lead by wishing. The Food Safety Working Group, announced by Obama in March 2009, published its list of food safety principles on July 1st:
- Principle 1: Preventing harm to consumers is our first priority.
- Principle 2: Effective food safety inspections and enforcement depend upon good data and analysis.
- Principle 3: Outbreaks of foodborne illness should be identified quickly and stopped.
This took more than three months to figure out?
The President should have asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to join the Food Safety Working Group. She unveiled a detailed food safety policy agenda in February 2008 – one day after Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company recalled more than 143 million pounds of beef. Her program included:
- Immediately conduct a thorough audit of our nation’s food safety systems to locate weaknesses and gaps.
- Increase USDA food safety funding by more than 50% so that our inspectors have the resources and staffing they need to do their jobs.
- Move toward a single Food Safety Administration responsible for all food products, with strong authorities to protect consumers.
- Give our safety agencies mandatory recall authority and direct them to create a national tracing system so we can determine the origin of tainted food.
- Find, prosecute, and punish food production facilities that abuse animals and allow unsafe food to enter our food supply.
- Ban the slaughter of downed animals.
If Hillary Clinton had won the Democratic Party nomination and the White House, she would not have relied on Congressional committees to draft legislation based on a wish list. Hillary would have sent a detailed draft Food Safety Modernization bill to Congress, and would have lobbied strenuously for its passage. Nor would she have allowed a key food safety position to remain vacant for 10 months.
I definitely should have voted for Hillary!