House GOP eyes food safety for the chopping block

HOUSE GOP EYES FOOD SAFETY FOR THE CHOPPING BLOCK…. A week ago, 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. That’s the good news. The bad news is, the incoming House Republican majority may try to gut the new law.

The bill that passed Congress expands the FDA’s ability to recall tainted foods, increase inspections, demand accountability from food companies, and oversee farming — all in the hopes of cracking down on unsafe food before consumers get sick. This is the first time Congress has approved an overhaul of food-safety laws in more than 70 years.

Implementation shouldn’t be that difficult, and wouldn’t be were it not for a certain House majority party.

The massive overhaul of food safety laws approved by Congress this week will take years to implement and could be undercut by Republicans who don’t want to fund an expansion of the Food and Drug Administration.

Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, the ranking GOP member on the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the FDA , said the number of cases of food-borne illnesses in the country does not justify the $1.4 billion the new law is estimated to cost over the first five years.

“I would not identify it as something that will necessarily be zeroed out, but it is quite possible it will be scaled back if it is significant overreach,” said Kingston, who is likely to become chairman of the subcommittee when Republicans assume control of the House in January.

“We still have a food supply that’s 99.99 percent safe,” Kingston said in an interview. “No one wants anybody to get sick, and we should always strive to make sure food is safe. But the case for a $1.4 billion expenditure isn’t there.”

Anytime the member of Congress with principal oversight authority over the FDA says, “No one wants anybody to get sick, but…” the sentence probably isn’t going to end well.

Also keep in mind, the $1.4 billion price tag covers implementation over the course of five years — or $280 million a year for a revamped food-safety system that will prevent more Americans from getting sick.

The Consumer Federation of America was among several consumer groups and public health organizations that joined with the food industry to lobby for the bill’s passage. On Wednesday, members of the coalition said they would keep the group together to press lawmakers for funding.

“It’s critically important that FDA gets sufficient resources to do its job under the next Congress, or the full promise of the legislation won’t be achieved,” said Erik Olson of the Pew Health Group, which organized the coalition.

Given Republican priorities, I suspect that’s the idea.