House GOP targets food safety, WIC, nutrition aid

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.

Yesterday, House Republicans voted to turn back the clock — and threw in some bad news for low-income families while they were at it.

Arguing that the U.S. food supply is 99 percent safe, House Republicans cut millions of dollars Thursday from the Food and Drug Administration’s budget, denying the agency money to implement landmark food safety laws approved by the last Congress.

Saying the cuts were needed to lower the national deficit, the House also reduced funding to the Agriculture Department’s food safety inspection service, which oversees meat, poultry and some egg products. And lawmakers chopped $832 million from an emergency feeding program for poor mothers, infants and children. Hunger groups said that change would deny emergency nutrition to about 325,000 mothers and children.

Just so we’re clear, House Republicans believe we can afford tax cuts for the wealthy, and we can afford even larger military budgets, but there’s just not enough money for food safety or nutrition aid for low-income children.

Also keep in mind, the GOP cuts aren’t just nibbling around the edges. 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, recently explained, “These cuts could seriously harm our ability to protect the food supply.”

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), chairman of the House subcommittee that wrote the agriculture appropriations bill, argued on the House floor yesterday that businesses should simply be trusted to sell safe products. The “private sector,” he said, “self-polices,” so we need not worry too much about safeguards to protect the public.

As John Cole recently joked, “If these guys were comic book villains, no one would buy it because it’s just too over the top.”

The final vote, by the way, was 217 to 203. No Democrats, not even the Blue Dogs, voted for this, and 19 Republicans broke ranks to join with the Dem minority.

The spending bill now heads to the Senate, where it’s unlikely to be well received.