By James J. Gormley
Courtesy of The Gormley Files
President Obama is waiting to hear from you, your neighbors, your brothers, your sisters, your parents — and all of America — as to whether to sign the “food safety bill” into law.
If you agree with all of the problems we have identified with this bill — or even with most of them — I ask you to please go to the White House comment page and ask the President to veto this bill.
It’s not that the bill is meant to disrupt the American Way of Life or forever change the fabric of our great nation. It is not badly intentioned. It even has some decent provisions in it. On top of that, dietary supplements were ostensibly excluded, as were farms and small food-service operations.
The problem is not what was intended, or what FDA Commissioner Hamburg believes is in this bill. The problem is that the bill’s advocates and many of its supporters were all sold a bill of goods.
The fact is that FSMA will do very little to improve food safety; and, in truth, by obscuring the real core of our nation’s food safety problems with layer upon layer of HACCP requirements, and food allergenicity protections and food safety recordkeeping plans — and all of the $1.4 billion worth of stuff (red tape and feel good busywork) in this bill — this bill would actually make things worse.
Why? Because while Dr. Hamburg and the bill’s cheerleaders are busy shaking hands, and slapping each other on the back as to what an amazing bill this is (which it is not), the disgusting factory farms and filthy slaughterhouses in this country — which are the real problems with our food supply, let’s face it — will not be made any less filthy by this $1.4 billion boondoggle.
What are the remaining problems with this bill that make it un-signable?
If the FDA (Secretary of the HHS) has a “reasonable belief” or feels there is a “reasonable probability” that a food is unsafe, records inspections must be carried out and foods can be quarantined. The FDA has a long and sordid history of abusing this power by making assumptions that hurt food producers, and ultimately consumers.
The FDA already believes (without a shred of evidence) that raw milk and raw milk cheeses are unsafe — wouldn’t this be the perfect opportunity for the FDA to close down a cottage industry towards which it has always held such animus?
Now while it is potentially good that the bill includes a proviso (in Section 113) calling for dietary supplement products (that’s why I said ostensibly excludes, above) that may contain (or may be) anabolic steroids to be referred to the DEA, the problem is that that it is way too vague: “may contain” is not definitive enough by a long stretch, which opens the doors for the FDA to believe that many supplements “may contain” anabolic steroids, and hurt legitimate manufacturers in the process.
Section 423 offers manufactuers an opportunity to voluntarily take a product off the market and recall it if the FDA feels that there is a “reasonable probability” that an article of food is misbranded. Well, here we go again; the FDA has time and again greatly overarched in its authority in these areas, often calling products “misbranded” for the smallest mistake in a nutrition facts or product label.
Section 404 insists that nothing in the bill shall in any way be inconsistent with the World Trade Organization or any other international treaty or agreement to which the U.S. is a party! Okay, again, can anyone explain why (I ask why) domestic, sovereign, internal U.S. laws and regulations need to be consistent with international treaties and agreements (such as Codex)?
Section 420 calls for limited distribution of the guidance documents that food producers would need in order to comply with this law in the interests of “national security.” This says that although food facilties will be required to comply with this new law, if the U.S. government does not feel like releasing instructions and guidance on how to properly comply with the requirements, it does not have to, if blanketed under the usual sacred cow of “national security.” Outrageous!
FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg MD truly believes that the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is the greatest thing ever. Sadly, it is not worthy of the President’s signature and was railroaded through Congress under suspended rules and other legislative sleight of hand.
I ask you to tell President Obama to please veto this bill; we will work together on coming up with an alternative bill in 2011 that will be signature-worthy.