The Food Safety Bill vs. the Tea Party

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My policy is to ignore snippy comments on this site, but I recently received one that raises an issue worth attention. In response to my most recent post about the endless—and to my mind, appalling—delays in passing S. 510, a bill that will give the FDA authority to require safe food production, a critical reader, Harry Hamil, writes:

Dr. Nestle, your statement, "What's holding up this bill? Nothing but politics of the worst kind," is absolutely false and you know it. As you well know, there is broad, deep and large opposition to the industrial-size-only approach to food safety that S 510/HR 2749 will make the law of the land ... And, once again, I challenge you to a debate of the actual provisions of the bill. Your previous blogs demonstrate a remarkable ignorance of the actual provisions and little understanding of the real world consequences.

As readers of this blog know, I believe that all food, no exceptions, from large producers and small, should be produced safely, meaning that producers should follow food safety plans that involve preventive controls. But this comment raises another issue: the unhelpful tone of this debate.

Bill Marler, the Seattle lawyer who represents the victims of food poisonings, gets such comments all the time. In a post on FoodSafetyNews.com, he deals with the tone issue in response to rather nasty comment about his views of raw milk. Marler says:

Actually, I get more than a few emails like this. Most do a bit better at spelling and punctuation, but nearly all are from raw milk proponents, producers, or consumers (although there are a few from the anti-S. 510 cabal). Some, but not all, have a level of passion that borders on violence. Perhaps not directed at me, but generally in the "do not tread on me" —"tea party" shouting that we have been subjected to over the last year.

Frankly, I was perplexed at the "yell fest" that passed for discussion of whether we should expand health care to the 40 million of our fellow citizens without health insurance. I am shocked at how we scream at each other via email or blog comments about raw milk or honest differences about how food safety legislation should be modeled. It is like screaming at and belittling each other at the dinner table—albeit, a very large table.

What is with all this anger over food? I mean, honestly, it seems like there are bigger fish to fry. What about the wars? Global warming? Energy policy?

But, folks are angry about their view of food—especially the proponents of raw milk (affectionately, "raw milkies") and the anti-S. 510 folks (affectionately, "organic tea baggers"). Both groups view themselves as victims of big government and big business bent on reducing them to servitude or extinction. They cannot see that perhaps, just perhaps, people who see the dangers of raw milk or the value of S. 510, might simply have an honest disagreement with those that see raw milk as the nectar of the gods or S. 510 as more than a method of lining the pockets of Monsanto. But, hey, that is just me.

So, do the yelling, threats and belittling of the anti raw milk/pro S. 510 crowd actually work? Are some convinced that those that yell the loudest have the best arguments? Or, do some simply shy away from their positions after being the target of a nasty blog post or scathing email or comment? I think some do. I know I have been tempted to simply focus on other pressing issues surrounding food safety—there are many—and let folks guzzle raw milk to their heart's content and let S. 510 die a lingering death.

But, that is not my style. Even as a child when told to do A I usually did B. When the raw milk party calls me a tool of big dairy or an ambulance chaser, I come back with reasoned pros and cons of raw milk consumption, videos of raw milk consumers sickened, and a website—Real Raw Milk Facts—dedicated to having a reasoned discussion about raw milk. I am also beginning to work on a raw milk retail sampling project to test its safety.

As for S. 510, the nastier the emails from small producers who want little or no food safety regulation, the more money I donate to political campaigns, the more trips I take to D.C., and the more often I fund victim visits to their favorite senator.

And, to do the above, I hardly raise my voice. Well, once in awhile I do.

Me too. Thanks Bill.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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