The Food and Drug Administration announced yesterday that it finished a round of egg farm inspections that were initiated following a salmonella outbreak in August that sickened more than 1,800 people, in the largest such outbreak since 1973. The FDA inspectors found that one farm (which the agency refused to identify) had a serious salmonella problem, while others had issues like failing to adequately control “rodent activity” and preventing “stray animals” from wandering into their facilities.
The FDA clearly did its job here, catching a potential problem before it actually turned into an outbreak of foodborne illness. However, if Republicans have their way, the FDA and other food inspectors at the Food Safety and Inspection Service are in for big budget cuts.
Under the House Republicans’ proposal to reduce non-defense discretionary spending, the FDA’s $2.3 billion budget (which makes up a whopping 0.07 percent of the overall federal budget) will be reduced by 20 percent, imperiling the jobs of 3,000 inspectors.
And that’s child’s play compared to the 40 percent hit the FDA would be in for under the House Republican Study Committee’s spending plan, or the 62 percent cut it would see under Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) budget. In a final kicker, Republicans are also threatening to defund the recently passed Food Safety Modernization Act, which boosts the inspection abilities of the FDA, even though it will actually save taxpayers money in the long run.
At the moment, one out of six Americans suffers from a foodborne illness every year, with 128,000 of those resulting in hospitalization. Ultimately, 3,000 people die from foodborne illness annually, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Georgetown University’s Produce Safety Project has found that foodborne illness costs the U.S. $152 billion each year. With the growing amount of food that is coming into the U.S. from all over the world, the FDA and food safety inspection is becoming more, not less important.
The Republican argument — most vocally espoused by Paul — is that the market will simply self-regulate bad egg producers out of existence. Of course, that would only happen if egg buyers had perfect information (do you know where the eggs you buy on any given instance are from?), and even if perfect information existed, people would have to get sick and possibly die before the market worked its magic. The conservative vision of self-regulation entails needless pain and suffering that actual regulation can prevent.
Republicans have been extremely reluctant to lay out what, exactly, their proposed spending cuts would practically mean, but this is one area, among many others, where their proposed cuts would have real consequences in the everyday lives of Americans.