Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Food Safety in 2009: President Obama, Sec. Vilsack, The Senate, FDA On The "Naughty" Christmas List

The food safety landscape after the first year of the Obama administration remains very similar to the last year of the Bush administration....
During a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, President Obama gave himself a letter grade of B+ for his first year in office. But all the same, an ad hoc consortium of food safety professionals, food safety advocates, and food safety writers say he deserves some coal in his Christmas stocking.

Food Safety News, the best online publication for all aspects of the safety of the global food supply, is running a list of who's been naughty and who's been nice this year in food safety. The list was created after polling those mentioned above, including your intrepid blogger. There was an overwhelming consensus that large chunks of coal should be deposited in the Christmas stockings of both President Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for the failure to name someone to lead USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, which monitors meat, poultry and eggs.

Sure, the President and Sec. Vilsack inherited huge problems...but after almost a year in office--and multiple Class I (you could die) recalls for contaminated beef--where's the FSIS Under Secretary? Perhaps Santa himself will be delivering a sprightly, smarty-pants elf from Toyland, to monitor the nation's food supply in 2010? Because elves might be the only individuals who can pass the conflict-of-interest test...which is the "official" reason no one has been appointed as Under Secretary for Food Safety. The President also gets some coal for attempting to let free trade trump food safety issues, and for his lunch visit to the aptly named Ray's Hell Burger, which had been cited for food safety violations for under cooking its burgers (photo above is the President and Vice President Biden at Ray's). The FDA is also awarded coal on the naughty list, because it's been engaging in the dubious activities cited below, and the entire Senate warrants mention, too.

The "Nice List" will be published tomorrow--and the President and Sec. Vilsack are on that list, too--but here's the Naughty List:

NAUGHTY: President Obama for NOT appointing a new permanent U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Food Safety. ALSO NAUGHTY: USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack for making excuses about it. (See "FSIS Remains Leaderless," Oct. 16, 2009)

NAUGHTY: The Senate for being too slow on health care reform to pass meaningful--and decades overdue--food safety legislation before the Holidays. (Ed. note: The House passed food safety legislation in July)

NAUGHTY: Secretary Vilsack and White House for trying, in the name of free trade, to roll over Rep. Rosa DeLauro's (D-Conn) efforts to assure that the US does not permit poultry processors from shipping raw poultry meat from the US to China for processing and shipping back to the US for sale until USDA has determined that China's inspection program is equivalent to ours. (See "Deal Reached on Poultry Imports," Sep 27, 2009)

NAUGHTY: The FDA staff that keeps appealing to consumer advocates, "don't set us up to fail," when consumer advocates push for more inspection. They never say, "help us get the law and resources we need to protect people."

NAUGHTY: J. Patrick Boyle of the American Meat Institute for trying to dynamite the Senate food safety bill even though it doesn't have anything to do with the meat industry.

NAUGHTY: State public health department officials attending the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference in October who put industry profits ahead of public health.

NAUGHTY: Weston A. Price Foundation for more denial of outbreaks and giving consumers false information about raw milk safety.

NAUGHTY: FDA for its failure to control ridiculous health claims like Kelogg's claiming that Cocoa Krispies are a "Smart Choice" because it "helps support your child's immunity."

NAUGHTY: Some raw milk, small and sustainable agriculture advocates who confused the entire food safety debate by making and circulating false claims about the food safety bills. It really is about food safety, and is not a gigantic conspiracy by Monsanto to wipe out organic and backyard farms!

NAUGHTY: Washington State University for removing Michael Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma" from the Common Reading Program. (Ed. note: The book was restored after monetary interventions by Bill Marler; see note below)

NAUGHTY: The FDA for caving to political pressure and backing down on oyster regulations. (See "Under Pressure, FDA Puts Oyster Policy On Hold," Nov 14, 2009)
NAUGHTY: President Obama and Vice-President Biden for ordering undercooked hamburgers for the Press Corps at a DC restaurant with less than stellar inspection reports.

NAUGHTY: Stewart Parnell, President of Peanut Corporation of America, for asking for nearly $1 million from his bankrupt business for his own criminal defense fund after shipping peanuts his own tests showed were contaminated with Salmonella that sickened over 700 and killed at least nine. (See "PCA Executives To Divide $875,000," Dec 11, 2009)

NAUGHTY: FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations and the U.S. District Attorney in Georgia for moving so slowly with the criminal investigations of the Peanut Corporation of America and its executives, including Stewart Parnell. (See "One Year Later, Still no Charges for PCA," Nov 07, 2009)

*Transparency: Food Safety News is published by pre-eminent food borne disease attorney and safety advocate Bill Marler, who also writes Marlerblog, on food safety issues. Obama Foodorama appears on Marlerblog as a guest blogger, and Marler has guest posted on this blog. Photo by AP.