Should industry be required to fund government inspections of their products and factories? That's the question raised by the Grocery Manufacturing Association today in response to food safety legislation drafted by House Democrats. The GMA -- not be confused with GMA -- objects to the specific regulation not at all but to the amount of money the government plans to spend on inspections. Too much! An increase of 78% over four years, from $439 million in 2006 to $789 million in 2010. The cost of complying with an enhanced inspection regime would result in "significant new fees" on the food manufacturers and yes, "ultimately consumers" at a time when -- you guessed it -- "they could least afford it."
In addition, like many consumer groups, we are concerned about the inherent conflict of interest created by asking industry to fund government inspections. We are also concerned about provisions that increase the cost of food without improving the safety of the food supply.
This is a familiar refrain, an argument that industry generally makes when they oppose legislation. Unfortunately, the arguments will land on deaf ears; policy-makers on the left don't buy them and the public doesn't generally respond to these pseudo-threats (i.e., we'll have to charge more because the government is charging us more, so write your Member of Congress!) Truth is, food prices are pretty low these days.
How much money are we talking about here? The legislation imposes a $2000 fee per place-where-food-gets made. Small family farms would pay $2000 -- and that could be a burden, although there are some exceptions built into the law. Bigger companies will barely notice the fees.
A less obvious concern
is that the FDA may not need to regulate as much as they're regulating. Most all of the risk associated with foods is concentrated in a few core processes and certain prone-to-spoil products. If the FDA's mandate is increased and their budget is increased, their effectiveness at policing the really bad stuff -- the stuff that can kill you -- might be reduced. (Note that another agency, the USDA, regulates most meat.)
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is an Atlantic
contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One
, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week