Paul Krugman’s column in today’s NY Times is called, “The President Surrenders,” and an equally apt title is, “Apocalypse Soon.” Krugman deftly notes the failure of democracy to address monetary ills and forecasts a decline in the U.S. economy that will last several years. He notes that we are well on the towards becoming a banana republic due to the failure of government to face down economic forces that could care less about the public sector.
In the view of the aforementioned economic forces, as I understand them, the public sector is there to buy stuff. Safety is relevant only so far. Guy croaks, guy gets sick, another guy’ll come along, sell him stuff the first guy’s not buying.
Link to the column: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/01/opinion/the-president-surrenders-on-debt-ceiling.html?src=ISMR_HP_LO_MST_FB.
What does this mean for consumers?
Chiefly, you can kiss food safety goodbye: “The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the cost of implementing the Food Safety act would be $1.4 billion over five years. The whopping $285 million budget cut makes it likely that many of the enforcement and oversight provisions of the act will not be implemented. FDA told an industry publication just before the vote that if the House funding cuts were approved, there will be a ‘significant delay in implementation of the new Food Safety Modernization Act (including the law’s nineteen priority areas, especially import oversight, training, and inspections).’”
The cut noted above was prior to the “budget deal” that took place yesterday so the FSMA may be rendered even less effective.
This means that health claims of food products will not be evaluated with as much vigor as was intended, that management of food allergies in school settings will not be as thorough, and…that imported foods will not be subject to the kinds of inspections recommended.
The import issue is critical. As noted earlier on this site: “Nearly two-thirds of all fruits and vegetables and three-quarters of all seafood consumed in the United States now come from outside the country.” In terms of numbers, “A decade ago, the F.D.A. was responsible for policing six million shipments annually coming through 300 ports. This year, the number of shipments is expected to grow to 24 million.”
It’s mercury in fish, e coli in sprouts, dioxins, fish that glow in the dark, and food that has been processed unscrupulously and has melamine in it.
One big culprit is China, which is the source of many products on our tables.
A comment from TNYT on the Chinese attitude towards food safety: “Most of them are working like headless chickens, having no clue what are the major food-borne diseases that need to be addressed or what are the major contaminants in the food process,” said Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, a food safety expert with the World Health Organization’s Beijing office. Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/08/world/asia/08food.html?ref=foodsafety
It’s not just China. The issue is simply: What will be the effects on food safety once the budget for the FDA is cut?
In the European Union (EU), to name only a few recent examples, food safety measures have included: banning milk from China (2008), testing food from 11 prefectures in Japan (2011), and banning Egyptian seeds (2011). While here: It’s all OK.
Krugman concludes ominously in his piece today: “In the long run, however, Democrats won’t be the only losers. What Republicans have just gotten away with calls our whole system of government into question. After all, how can American democracy work if whichever party is most prepared to be ruthless, to threaten the nation’s economic security, gets to dictate policy? And the answer is, maybe it can’t.”
That’s a lot to digest.