Everyone eats

EVERYONE EATS…. Given the recent criticism about the White House trying to do too much, I can only assume the president’s detractors were disappointed with Obama’s emphasis on food safety yesterday. Fortunately, the administration is ignoring those concerns.

President Obama accused the Bush administration yesterday of creating a “hazard to public health” by failing to curb food contamination problems, and he announced new leadership and other changes aimed at modernizing food-safety laws.

In his weekly address to the nation, Obama said he is forming a Food Safety Working Group to “upgrade our food safety laws for the 21st century,” and he formally named former New York City health chief Margaret A. Hamburg as his new Food and Drug Administration commissioner. Baltimore Health Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein will be Hamburg’s deputy, he said.

Obama also said he will ask Congress for $1 billion in new funds to add inspectors and modernize laboratories, and announced that the Agriculture Department is moving ahead with a rule change banning all sick or disabled cattle from entering the food supply. The change had stalled during the last months of the Bush administration, which allowed some “downer cows” to be slaughtered for sale.

“There are certain things only a government can do,” Obama said. “And one of those things is ensuring that the foods we eat, and the medicines we take, are safe and do not cause us harm.”

Good. The FDA became a rather pathetic joke over the last eight years. A group of federal scientists recently told Obama, for example, “Managers with incompatible, discordant and irrelevant scientific and clinical expertise in devices…have ignored serious safety and effectiveness concerns of FDA experts. Managers have ordered, intimidated and coerced FDA experts to modify scientific evaluations, conclusions and recommendations in violation of the laws, rules and regulations, and to accept clinical and technical data that is not scientifically valid.”

In other words, the Bush administration’s “leadership” on these issues — food safety, medicine, medical devices, consumer health in general — was literally sickening.

“No parent should have to worry that their child is going to get sick from their lunch, just as no family should have to worry that the medicines they are buying will cause them harm,” the president said yesterday. “Protecting the safety of our food and drugs is one of the most fundamental responsibilities government has.”

And what does this have to do with demands that Obama spend every waking moment focused on nothing but the economy? Not much. But, as dday noted, “I’m going to go ahead and guess that 100% of Americans eat food. And the e. coli conservatism of the Bush years had a real and profound effect on people.”

Quite right. Bush administration negligence on issues like food safety contributed to Americans’ lack of confidence in their elected leaders. People lost faith in the government’s ability to protect their interests. Obama intends to restore that confidence — reassuring the nation that we have capable officials looking out for them — which strikes me as a very wise use of his time.