Politics are Poisoning the Food Supply
Concerned Scientists Speak Out Against Intimidation
It's official: The collusion of business and government is making us sick.
And I don't mean that creeping sickly feeling you might experience from lying politicians or the national debt...
The interests of the powers that be are making us physically ill.
The Union of Concerned Scientists just released a new report claiming the revolving door of government and big business has directly compromised America's food safety. The group contends that government scientists and inspectors are routinely pressured and manipulated to meet business and political agendas.
In the last few years, the American public has been subjected to some very dangerous food. I'm not talking about KFC's Double Down — I'm talking about staple foods like eggs, beef, and spinach that have sickened and even been fatal for Americans.
Roughly 76 million Americans are stricken with some degree of food-borne illness, resulting in over 300,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths each year, according to the Center for Disease Control.
So why have regulatory agencies like the FDA and USDA failed to stop large outbreaks of salmonella, E.coli, and internal parasites?
It seems the agencies are too rife with corporate and political interference to actually perform their solemn duty to protect the public.
The revolving door between big business and government is mostly to blame, asserts the report — colorfully titled, "Driving the Fox from the Henhouse,"
Take Michael Taylor for instance, the FDA's current “food czar.” Taylor spent his career going in and out of public and private sectors.
For years, he worked as a lawyer for agro-behemoth Monsanto. After leaving his post there, he returned to the FDA just in time to help the agency approve Monsanto's genetically engineered growth hormones for dairy cows, among other industry friendly policies. As a reward, Monsanto appointed Taylor Vice President of Public Policy (aka chief lobbyist) in 1998.
Since so many regulatory leaders like Taylor were previously big business decision makers in their industry, it's pretty obvious what happens — they tend to protect their own. An agency conversation may go down something like this:
Government Scientist: Here's our latest study on the safety of Mega Dairy Corp. eggs. It looks like we should issue a recall at once; the data suggests that their eggs could be contaminated with salmonella.
USDA Regulator: Oh, Mega Dairy? I used to be on their board of directors... Let me make a call and get this straightened out. In the meantime, don't mention this data to anyone.
(USDA Regulator calls CEO of Mega Dairy Corp.)
CEO of Mega Dairy: John Eggman, bigwig CEO here.
USDA Regulator: Hey John — one of our scientists just told me that her data suggests that you guys aren't producing safe eggs.
CEO of Mega Dairy: That's ridiculous Jeffrey, you know we're safe. And a recall would cost us millions! So, are we cool?
USDA Regulator: Good enough for me, buddy. See you at the golf course this weekend?
CEO of Mega Dairy: You know it! First round is on me...
(USDA Regulator calls Government Scientist into office)
USDA Regulator: The Mega Dairy food is safe, so you can throw that report away.
Government Scientist: But...
USDA Regulator: Shut up or you're fired!
Well, it may not go exactly like that... But according to the report, the pressure from business is an open secret in the federal agencies. Working in tandem with the University of Iowa, the team surveyed nearly 2,000 FDA and USDA employees and some of their responses are pretty alarming:
34 percent of respondents had personally experienced one or more incidents of political interference
10 percent of respondents had frequently or occasionally received requests from agency decision makers to “inappropriately exclude or alter technical information or conclusions in an agency scientific document”
16 percent of respondents had frequently or occasionally experienced “selective or incomplete use of data to justify a specific regulatory outcome”
13 percent had frequently or occasionally experienced “changes or edits during review that change the meaning of scientific findings that occur without a meaningful opportunity to correct them”
A majority of survey respondents with advanced degrees (217 respondents — or 59 percent) disagreed or strongly disagreed that they are currently “allowed to speak to the public and the news media about my scientific research findings”
All in all, a palpable amount of the FDA and USDA employees questioned have admitted that these agencies are skewing results and silencing scientists in order to suppress results that could potentially be damaging to the industry.
Perhaps most damning is that half of the respondents reported that — in the past year — they have experienced “instances where the public health has been harmed by businesses withholding food safety information from agency investigators."
So, according to the scientists, if they had a transparent system free of political and business influence, our food supply would be safer. But since that's a pipe dream, the Union of Concerned Scientists has suggested some policy changes that will help protect our food supply.
Almost all of the respondents agreed that increasing the frequency of food safety inspections conducted by the FDA and USDA would make food safer.
They also favored giving the FDA and USDA the authority to mandate food recalls and require food manufacturers to disclose more information to the government, as well as increasing government surveillance of food imports.
Almost 75 percent said that a electronic food tracking system would boost effectiveness in monitoring and tracking dangerous foods.
Congress also should provide adequate resources to more effectively police the food supply. As the report pointed out: “Only then can the frequency and scale of disease outbreaks decline.”
Many of these resources are actually included in the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 passed by the House of Representatives last fall, but the bill has so far languished in the Senate.
Senator Harry Reid announced this weekend that the Senate would not be able to pass the bipartisan bill by the end of the year, leaving food safety advocates fuming.
The bill would have strengthened the FDA's enforcement powers, and would overhaul food safety laws for the first time in decades.
Reid said in a statement that the issue of food safety is too critical to be "hijacked by petty politics."
I'm sorry to tell you this, Mr. Reid, but according to the employees of the agencies in question... it was hijacked a long time ago.