Egg Safety Politics

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After the Hillandale Farms egg contamination (from which I may or may not have gotten salmonella last weekend--seriously), food safety is once again surfacing as a political issue.


FDA Chief Margaret Hamburg gave a series of interviews calling for expanded FDA authority, as a food-safety bill awaits action in the Senate. From the AP:

Giving a series of network interviews in the wake of the egg and salmonella breakout, Hamburg said the FDA is taking the issue "very, very seriously." At the same time, she said Congress should pass pending legislation that would provide her agency with greater enforcement power, including new authority over imported food.

"We need better abilities and authorities to put in place these preventive controls and hold companies accountable," Hamburg said as she discussed the approximately 1,300 cases of salmonella poisoning and the recall of roughly a half-billion eggs from two Iowa egg distributors.

Meanwhile, TAPPED's Paul Waldman points to a 2007 Wall Street Journal story about the FDA conducting fewer inspections, making an argument against small-government conservatism.

Slammed with a busy calendar in July, the Senate failed to take up a major food-safety bill before adjourning for August recess. The bill had languished in the Senate for over a year after the House passed it in July 2009.

See more on the bill here from Marion Nestle. It would, among other things, provide for more FDA inspectors and give the agency authority to mandate food recalls. As it works now, companies issue recalls on their own, incentivized to do so for business purposes.

The bill had been held up partly by a slow-moving Senate and partly by a provision pushed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein to ban Bisphenol A (known commonly as BPA) from baby bottles and sippy cups. BPA is widely used in plastics, and some studies have found that it's harmful to fetuses and newborns in animals; see the NIH's explanation of BPA here. This drew opposition from major food-industry and business groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, but Democrats have dropped the provision from their compromise bill. Feinstein will instead offer the amendment on the floor; presumably, if it fails, the food-safety bill will pass and the politics of food safety, heightened by the egg contamination and salmonella outbreak, will reach a resolution point.
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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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