Roll Call is reporting that Big Meat is less than pleased with the food safety bill currently moving through Congress. While on its face, this might be surprising, what’s been notable to this point, as Jill Richardson recently pointed out, is the overwhelming support the bill has found among other industrial producers. Nothing like a $1 billion in losses from some a little bit of contaminated peanut butter to convince you that maybe, just maybe, the government has a role to play in food safety.
But of course, that logic didn’t appeal to Big Meat. This despite the facts that deadly E coli infections are once again on the rise — the USDA recalled 300,000 pounds of ground beef last month alone. Big Meat’s issues are what you’d expect — the new fees are too high, giving the government mandatory recall power (which it does not currently have) is excessive, and inspecting farms and livestock operations is unnecessary.
But food safety lawyer Bill Marler caught a particular objection that might have been a little too honest. From the Roll Call article:
[National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s Colin] Woodall, said meat producers are also concerned about the precedent this bill could set in giving the Food and Drug Administration regulatory authority over the industry, which is currently watched over by the Department of Agriculture.
I’ve talked before about regulatory capture, whereby a regulator acts in the interests of its subject industry rather than the general public. And the USDA is prima facie evidence of this phenomenon. So here’s the meat industry demanding to choose its regulator. We’re in the midst of a catastrophic failure of food safety because the food industry has far too much influence over the USDA. Big Meat’s cousins in the industry seem to recognize that particular jig is up and don’t appear to be agitating against an increase in the FDA’s authority. Meanwhile, Big Meat is right to be concerned. The FDA’s first and second in command, along with the new head of the CDC, are all on record saying that the FDA needs to significantly increase its scrutiny of food production. So I’m not surprised that Big Meat objects to the prospect of a more powerful FDA. But I am surprised that they’re so willing to admit it.