August 6, 2011

Our View: Food safety program cuts mindless, shortsighted

Reducing inspectors' ability to prevent food-borne epidemics is the wrong way to save money.

For the last month we have heard more than we needed to know about the nation's debt, and our government's inability to bring spending under control. But after all the talk, it's important to remember that we need government to do things that the private sector cannot or will not do on its own, and we have to pay for it.

This year, Congress passed a much-needed modernization of the Food and Drug Administration's food safety program, which gives the agency greater authority to inspect domestic and imported food, and, for the first time, the power to order mandatory recalls.

The Republican-controlled House, however, followed that up with a greatly reduced FDA budget that slashed $87 million from the previous food safety program, which did not have the extra duties now required of the agency.

This kind of short-sighted budget-cutting characterizes the level of debate exhibited by the debt ceiling talks, which has led to Congress earning a 14 percent approval rating in a recent poll. Fortunately, we have a Senate that can pass a more responsible FDA budget, recognizing that as the food supply becomes more concentrated in the hands of a small number of national and global producers, the danger of food-borne illness increases.

As if we needed more evidence, the nation is in the middle of one of the largest food recalls in history. It involves 36 million pounds of ground turkey that officials believe has been contaminated by a virulent strain of salmonella that is resistant to the most commonly prescribed antibiotics.

The tainted meat is believed to have sickened 79 people in 26 states, and may be responsible for at least one death.

Lawmakers who cut the food safety budget are not being fiscally responsible; they are playing politics with people's lives. Senators should make sure that the FDA has enough money to fulfill the important new responsibilities it has been given, and look elswhere for savings.

 

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