There are multiple problems with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as we know it. One, the person running it, Michael R. Taylor used to work for Monsanto, a name that will never not sound evil to me. Two, it’s one of 15 agencies designated to oversee food safety, and as such has little power over tainted food nationwide. Those ought to be enough impetus to call for reform. The question is, how to do it? Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) continue to spar over that one.
Durbin wants to expand the FDA’s power to the extent that it will be able to issue mandatory recalls of “suspected” infected food. I’m guessing there will be an inspection process in place somewhere along the line, but if anyone would like to put my mind at ease about that, by all means do so. Coburn, on the other hand, wants to “streamline” the FDA and other food safety agencies into a single body. It would certainly do well for those looking for a way to follow through on their promises to help shrink government.
Coburn’s proposal is good for efficiency’s sake, although some more information will be required so we can know exactly how he wants to redraw the organization charts. But some of his other sound bites are just flying over the top of my head. For example, from his recent op-ed in USA Today:
Throughout the debate, proponents have claimed we haven’t modernized food safety laws in 100 years. That proves my point. For the past 100 years, the free market, not the government, has been the primary driver of innovation and improved safety. Consumer choice is a far more effective accountability mechanism than government bureaucracies.
I have no idea what he’s trying to say. For starters, if consumers want to make an informed choice about buying safe food, how are they going to know whether or not it’s really safe? We can’t count on the manufacturers to tell them. For another, there are so many accounts of those same manufacturers cutting corners on food (and employee) safety that it does more to damage faith in the free market than inspire it.
If Coburn wants to merge existing food safety agencies into one, he’ll have to prepare for that one to have as much, if not more, power individually than they do collectively. I dislike bureaucracy as much as the next person, but if that makes the difference between contracting E. coli and not, I’ll take the bureaucracy.
And about the article’s other point: If you run a small farm and it’s producing unsafe food, yes, you deserve to pay for it.