America has suffered much from food poisoning over the past few years, from sources as disparate as contaminated eggs, peanut butter, and ground turkey. And now, the source is Colorado cantaloupes. This latest outbreak, due to listeria-tainted cantaloupe, has sickened 72 and has killed at least 16 across several states, making it the deadliest outbreak in a decade.
But Republican lawmakers still believe that the food industry should be freed from food safety regulations. Even as people continue to surface with listeriosis from this latest outbreak, the Republican Party is working to gut food safety laws. In June, House Republicans attempted to kill the first significant upgrade in the nation’s food safety laws in more than 70 years, arguing that the private food industry sufficiently policed itself. That effort was not successful and President Obama signed new, stricter measures into law. But the Republicans are still fighting the improved oversight, the new policies have not been put in place because Republicans refuse to fund it. They have already managed to curtail work by the FDA and USDA by cutting funding for both, further compromising our food safety.
Last week, presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) called for an end to food safety laws that she claimed were stifling job creation:
“That’s part of the problem, the overkill,” Bachmann told reporters during an appearance in which she posed with huge slabs of beef. “And when they make it complicated, they make it expensive and so then you can no longer stay in business.”
While the GOP cites the cost of new regulations, the annual cost of food illnesses is $152 billion, according to Georgetown University’s Produce Safety Project. The cost of not overhauling outdated food safety laws far exceeds the cost of implementing the new policies the GOP oppose. And of course, this focus on dollars completely ignores the 3,000 people who die because of food illnesses each year.
Americans should not have to fear the food we consume in our own homes. But as long as the Republicans put corporate profits ahead of consumer safety, we will continue to experience these deadly and costly food poison outbreaks all too frequently.