Bad news for Americans who eat food

In December, Americans who eat food received some very good news. A sweeping overhaul of the nation’s food-safety system, approved by both chambers with large, bipartisan majorities, cleared Congress, and was quickly signed into law by President Obama.

The long-overdue law expands the FDA’s ability to recall tainted foods, increases inspections, demands accountability from food companies, and oversees farming — all in the hopes of cracking down on unsafe food before consumers get sick. This was the first time Congress has approved an overhaul of food-safety laws in more than 70 years.

That’s the good news. The bad news is, the Republican-led House is fighting to gut the law.

Budget cuts proposed by House Republicans to the Food and Drug Administration would undermine the agency’s ability to carry out a historic food-safety law passed by Congress just five months ago, food safety advocates say. […]

To carry out the new law, President Obama is seeking $955 million for food safety at the FDA in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

Last week, the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the FDA pared back that amount to $750 million, which is $87 million less than the figure the agency is currently receiving for food safety.

“This subcommittee has begun making some of the tough choices necessary to right the ship,” said Chairman Jack Kingston, (R-Ga.).The full committee was scheduled to vote on the proposed cuts Tuesday, and the budget proposal was expected to pass.

Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee approved the cuts yesterday, which are severe enough to prevent the FDA from implementing the new law. Erik Olson, director of food and consumer product safety programs at the Pew Health Group, part of a coalition of public health advocates and food makers, said this week, “These cuts could seriously harm our ability to protect the food supply.”

Boy, those midterm elections really set the country on the right path, didn’t they?

It’s also worth appreciating the fact that these cuts to food safety were made in the name of fiscal responsibility, but it’s a classic example of being penny wise and pound foolish. Indeed, cutting funding on food safety is likely to cost us more money, not less.

I realize this may seem counter-intuitive. I can even imagine some Fox News personality telling viewers, “Those wacky liberals think it costs money to cut spending! What fools!”

But this just requires a little bit of thought. When we cut spending on food safety, we save a little money on inspection, but end up paying a lot of money on health care costs when consumers get sick.

The GOP approach is misguided as a matter of public health, public safety, and budgeting.