When we have the USDA and FDA, why are we still dying from salmonella and risking brain damage from the mercury in foods known to be contaminated before they ever left the factory? How were industrial food megacorps and the Peanut Corporation of America able to get foodstuffs they knew were tainted past Federal food safety agencies?

The dirty little secret about America’s food safety agencies is that for decades leaders in both corporatist parties have been sacrificing our health and safety to the deregulation cult…and the banquet of campaign contributions the food megacorps serve up for complicit pols. The USDA (broadly responsible for meat and poultry) has authority over 20 percent of our food supply; the FDA is responsible for maintaining the safety of the remaining 80 percent of our food supply. And the Congresscritters and Presidents with the power to fund FDA repeatedly chose to starve the FDA of the resources required to protect us.

USDA has the resources to inspect meat and poultry plants daily, as required by law. In contrast, FDA, which regulates 80 percent of the food supply, inspects food facilities it oversees on average just once every 10 years. USDA employs more than 7,600 inspectors who are stationed in 6,282 establishments to carry out its inspection mandate. FDA, meanwhile, has fewer than 2,000 inspectors who are spread over 136,000 domestic food processors and warehouses.

The Bushies starved FDA

Since 2003, the number of FDA field staff dropped by 12 percent, and between 2003 and 2006 federal inspections dropped by 47 percent. These declines in inspectors and inspections can be traced to an ongoing funding shortfall in the food safety program estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

As CSPI testified to before the FDA Commissioner’s Consumer Roundtable in December 2000, FDA inspections had already withered on (what passed for) Clinton’s watch.

[T]he FDA analyzed one-fourth fewer domestic food samples in FY 1999 (9,000) than it did in FY 1996 (12,000). When the President’s Food Safety Initiative was first developed, FDA inspectors visited food plants on average once every 10 years. Unfortunately, following nearly four years of funding increases under the Food Safety Initiative, things don’t appear to be much better today.

FDA’s shrinking food inspection capacity under the free-trade Clintonistas extended the longer pattern of malign neglect for our primary Federal food safety agency. In the 25 years after 1972, inspections conducted by the FDA declined by 81 percent. Who cares? Well, only people who eat.

Foods regulated by FDA, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, seafood, milk, and eggs, cause the vast majority of food-poisoning outbreaks. Even though many people think that meat and poultry cause most foodborne illnesses, in fact over two-thirds of all documented outbreaks are linked to foods regulated by FDA.

In 2000 – before the Bushies began to sack the FDA – the CDC estimated food posioning from microbes alone sickened 76 million Americans every year: 300,000 were hospitalized, and 5,000 died.

The next year, when an insane ideology killed 3,000 Americans we declared war on the world. Yet when the insane “deregulation” ideology of the free market cult killed over half again as many Americans, it was just business as usual. What poisoned our body politic?

Paul Krugman looked at the whole rancid mess last year:

How did America find itself back in The Jungle?

It started with ideology. Hard-core American conservatives have long idealized the Gilded Age, regarding everything that followed – not just the New Deal, but even the Progressive Era – as a great diversion from the true path of capitalism.

Thus, when Grover Norquist, the anti-tax advocate, was asked about his ultimate goal, he replied that he wanted a restoration of the way America was “up until Teddy Roosevelt, when the socialists took over. The income tax, the death tax, regulation, all that.”

The late Milton Friedman agreed, calling for the abolition of the Food and Drug Administration.

Even deadly bacteria have to eat something. So too do useful idiots like Norquist and Friedman. Salmonella grows on peanut butter. The corporatists’ deadly war on goverment and public safety grew and thrived in the propaganda shops think tanks and astroturf “free-market” front groups filled with inquiring minds who just happen to reach conclusions that bring the greatest possible profits for the most reactionary forces in America. And the corporatist funding for the savants who’ve trashed our regulatory system (for food, finance, the environment, medical care…) is tax deductible. Such a deal!

The deal works so well that even though an FDA employee detected wide-spread mercury contamination in our food supply five years ago, she had to wait to break the news until she left the FDA. So for five years, the fact mercury contaminates nearly one-third of the supermarket foods containing corn syrup was a secret to us…but not to the high fructose corn syrup manufacturers or the FDA.

Not to worry. The helpful corporate servants at the Bushie FDA recently ruled that foods containing high fructose corn syrup can be labelled “natural”.

Bon appetit.

[photo credit: blue_j]