“No Food Safety in These Numbers”

Posted on by Karina

Last week, the House passed the FY 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill (H.R. 2112) by a vote of 217-203. Even as Republicans are willing to spend billions to continue the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and tax breaks for oil companies and corporations shipping jobs overseas, the bill makes drastic cuts that takes food out of the mouths of children and increases the risk of food-borne illnesses. The bill:

Cut WIC for pregnant women, infants and children by $650 million or 10%—denying food and health counseling for up to 350,000 low-income women and young children for next year. It also cut food aid for low-income seniors (Commodity Supplemental Food Program) and help for food banks (Emergency Food Assistance Program).

Slashed the Food and Drug Administration by $572 million or 21% below the President’s request and by $285 million or 12% below this year. These deep cuts will severely undermine food safety efforts and increase the risk of food-borne illnesses – preventing the implementation of the landmark Food Safety Act enacted at the end of the Democratic-controlled 111th Congress. This law requires the FDA to significantly step up scrutiny of domestic and imported food and requires development of a new food safety system that is focused on preventing contamination before it occurs, rather than simply responding to contamination outbreaks.

Mark Bittman blogging for the New York Times explains there’s “No Food Safety in These Numbers”–excerpts:

…The House’s reactionary majority wants to dismantle two aspects of the Federal system that serve the majority of us not perfectly but decently: the Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC), one of the most effective of all social welfare programs, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), among whose jobs is the increasingly difficult one of protecting us from the kind of outbreak of E. coli that just killed at least 39 people in Germany, gravely — perhaps mortally — sickened another 800 and gave another couple thousand a few of those days none of us ever wants…

One in six Americans gets sick from the food we eat every year — that’s about 48 million people, or enough to fill your average baseball stadium a thousand times with people having extremely unpleasant symptoms — and there are 3,000 food-related deaths annually. This is a food system that Georgia Congressman Jack Kingston calls “99.99 percent safe.”…

…the annual costs of food-borne illness are estimated to be around $152 billion a year, and consider that the entire proposed FDA budget is around $4 billion (three percent of that $150 billion), and that a measly $280 million or so of that (about one-fifth of one percent of that $150 billion) was destined for the Food Safety Modernization Act, which would expand activity geared toward protecting us from E. coli and other foodborne threats.

…the House majority proposes funding the FDA at nearly $87 million less than it’s currently getting, and $205 million less than President Obama’s modest request. Which means that the already-passed Food Safety Modernization Act probably will not even be implemented…

Cutting FDA funds is a direct attack on the health and welfare of every person in this country; cutting WIC by 10 percent — that’s the House’s idea of fairness — may at first seem to affect fewer people, but a closer look shows good reason for us all to be concerned. It’s estimated that half of all American infants and about a quarter of all kids under four have participated in WIC. Not only caring people but impartial people consider the WIC program money well spent: every dollar spent saves three in health care costs during the first two months of a child’s life. Not a bad return on investment.

Take that away, and who pays those added health care costs? You. Me. Us…Yet the House version of the Agriculture Appropriations Bill would end food assistance for as many as 350,000 low-income women and children, and would put those women and children at risk for less-safe pregnancies, premature births, more infant deaths, worse nutrition and more. This from people who mostly claim to be “pro-life” yet for whom the great pleasure of claiming to “save” less than a billion dollars now outweighs the risk of spending many times that in the form of healthcare costs and mortality in the near future. Not to mention the suffering, which they don’t.

The numbers boggle the mind, but here it is, simply: With both FDA and WIC, we are talking millions in spending to save billions in health care costs…

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