Just like their opposition to Net Neutrality, the Tea Party movement has come out in vocal opposition against a piece of food safety legislation with little explanation other than a belief that any government regulatory action is by definition a bad thing.
The Tea Party Patriots, with the support and assistance of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) succeeded in getting the bill stalled until at least after the Thanksgiving recess. The bill, that had as of last week the support of at least 74 Senators would boost the power of the FDA to conduct inspections, give it mandatory recall authority, and require food facilities to put food safety plans. It’s sponsors introduced the measure after a slew of product recalls, salmonella and e-coli outbreaks and foodborne illnesses.
But opponents to the bill, like Sen. Coburn and radio hate-monger Glenn Beck have called the measure an overreaction and have likened the measure to the Affordable Care Act, doing all they can to distort the scope and intent of the legislation. Beck has gone so far as to misstate the size of the bill (though that is really no surprise) and attack the non-partisan Pew Research Center for it’s support of the measure, calling Pew an “uber left radical group.”
Without a doubt government intervention is not always the answer to systemic problems or market failures, but in the case of our nation’s food supply or other items that can broadly be considered part of the hard or soft infrastructure of this country, it certainly is. While an automatic grant of additional authority by no means guarantees a government agency will exercise that authority consistently and efficiently, neither does leaving a market participant to its own devices guarantee that the health and safety needs of the consumer will be met.
Our nation’s food supply has become toxic. Many of our processing plants operate in levels of filth that would rightly outrage consumers. Our factory farms have very little protection from widespread disease outbreak, and once that makes its way into the food supply there is very little that can be done to prevent sickening hundreds if not thousands of consumers. It’s not too much to argue that food safety can be a matter of national security and thus an appropriate venue for government intervention.
Which is what makes the Tea Party opposition to this bill so frustrating. Much of this opposition funded and fueled by the large agri-business interests that would be most affected by additional regulation, and at this point their “no government is good government” mantra sounds juvenile and reactionary, particularly since it is not grounded in an accurate factual debate of the merits of the bill. Instead, the opposition is being fueled largely by politicians and personalities who stand to gain from intentional distortion of the measure.
photo courtesy of Masaharo Ihirio via Flickr