(**UPDATE: After much political drama, the Senate passed the Food Safety bill unanimously on 12/19/2010.)
In an impassioned, rambling and error-infested rant last week, Glenn Beck made a last ditch effort to kill the Senate food safety bill, calling it a "Death Star." As is often the case with Beck's entertaining screeds, it's hard to decipher what exactly the underpinnings of his outrage are. But his rant is fueling Tea Party opposition, threatening the much-needed bill.
Beck's anti-food safety sentiments seem to boil down to three beliefs -- that more government regulation is nearly always a bad idea, that the bill will raise food prices and that America already has a perfectly safe food supply.
On all counts, Beck is wrong. But his comments -- along with new opposition from the Tea Party Patriots -- are just the sort of thing that could wipe out the fragile, filibuster-proof coalition Sen. Harry Reid and others have finally cobbled together.
Let's hope that doesn't happen because this bill has the support of an incredibly diverse group of people involved in food. Which is how you know that Beck is way off base with his big, evil, bureaucratic government stuff. Normally the first people waging war against additional government regulation are corporate lobbyists -- but in this case they're marching up to Capitol Hill to lobby for it. The fact that much of the food industry is championing the the Food Safety and Modernization Act -- which Beck repeatedly referred to on his radio show as the "farm bill," no doubt confusing listeners who pay attention to the politics of the actual farm bill -- is an indication of how badly America's food safety regulatory structure needs to be updated.
Manufacturers and chain restaurants think the bill is a good idea because they're sick of being hit with lost sales and heightened consumer fear whenever there's a another salmonella, listeria or E.coli outbreak. Kellogg (K), for instance, said it lost $70 million because of the peanut butter salmonella outbreak last year. A bill that requires all food processing and storage facilities to have their own control plans and charges the FDA with doing more inspections is an opportunity to level the playing field and make sure everyone is adhering to higher standards. On the Grocery Manufacturers Association's blog, chief lobbyist Scott Faber explains that it will also help with exports:
Restoring FDA's global reputation as a food regulator is good for business...US food manufacturers need a strong partner at FDA if we are going to open new markets to our products.Beck acknowledges that he hasn't read the bill, which is understandable, but he also appears not to have laid eyes upon any of the dozens of news reports and web sites that have helpfully summarized the bill. He does appear to have borrowed a few talking points from Sen. Tom Coburn, the Republican from Oklahoma who is also trying to derail the bill. Becks sarcastically calls the bill, which is slated to come to a Senate vote after Thanksgiving, "an extraordinarily innocuous thousand page bill" -- it's 250 pages. And he accuses the Senate of "rushing" to get the bill passed before the end of the year, even though it was passed in the House over a year ago and has been knocking around the Senate in ever since.
As for the bill resulting in higher food prices, no one besides Beck and Coburn is suggesting this will happen, including the food industry. And there's no report or study showing that America has the safest food supply in the world. Sure, it's better than Mexico and Indonesia, but somehow I don't think that's going to be very comforting to all people who've lost family members or had their kidneys demolished from simply eating lunch.