Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Regulation, inspection, and the food industry

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Larry Margasak of the Associated Press identifies the root of the problems in the food industry. Once again, it was the GOP being willing to do the bidding of business rather than protecting the consumer. And once again, the result is significant harm to the industry. Just as the US auto industry successfully fought against higher mileage standards, with the result that (for example) Ford has posted a lost of $8.7 billion for the past year, so the food industry is finding that its success in preventing effective consumer protections is resulting in great dollar losses to it.

WASHINGTON – 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.

Investigators initially focused on tomatoes as a culprit. Now they are turning attention to jalapeno peppers.

A former member of Bush’s Cabinet and three former senior officials in the Food and Drug Administration told the AP that government food safety experts did not get the strong record-keeping and trace-back system originally proposed under a bioterrorism law to cope with a major foodborne illness.

“In retrospect, yes, if they (the regulations) had been broader and a bit more far-reaching, it could have helped with this,” said Robert Brackett, senior vice president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association. “It wouldn’t have hurt, for sure.” Brackett formerly was a top safety official at the FDA.

Under pressure in 2003 and 2004, the White House agreed to dilute record-keeping proposals by FDA safety experts.

“If the FDA had been given the resources and authority years ago that it asked for to solve these kinds of problems, I think we would have solved this already,” said William Hubbard, a former FDA associate commissioner.

Tommy Thompson, who was health secretary during the industry’s lobbying campaign, acknowledged that a more robust food-tracking system — opposed by business groups as too expensive — could have helped stem the current illnesses and business losses.

“We went in with the larger package but knew we had to compromise,” Thompson told the AP. “I was satisfied with this being the first step. It’s always better to be a Monday morning quarterback. We could have ended up with nothing. If we had more, would it help the situation now? Yes.”

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.

“The FDA’s strong proposed bioterrorism rules were significantly watered down before they became final,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director at the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest. The private advocacy group obtained the White House meeting records under the Freedom of Information Act and provided them to the AP.

Continue reading—the malefactors are identified.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2008 at 10:28 am

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