Capitol Idea: Conservatives, Fancy A Splash Of E. Coli In Your Tea?

Food safety isn’t some abstract concept up for debate, particularly after we all weathered the recent egg recall that left millions fearing if their breakfasts would make them sick.

Foodborne pathogens cause 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations and kill 5,000 annually in this country — and may contribute to long-term disease in more than 1 million Americans, according to estimates by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Furthermore, the total economic impact of foodborne illness across the nation is estimated to be $152 billion annually, according to the Pew Charitable Trust, which maintains a program advocating for improved food safety.

Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates 80 percent of our food supply, it does so with inadequate resources and under the terms of an obsolete law that dates to 1938.

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act would start to improve the situation, and would for the first time, give the FDA a mandate to inspect facilities and prevent contamination.

Republicans like to wail over “excessive regulation,” but if we need more regulation to keep roaches out of our food, and to prevent rats from dry-roasting in the peanuts from which my kids’ peanut butter is made, so be it.

The bill in question isn’t some extreme, partisan plan, either. It was approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee by a unanimous vote of Democrats and Republicans.

If Republicans want to run away from such common-sense protections for us, and our children, it is a shame on them. But let them walk.

A recent poll found that even many self-styled “tea party” activists support tighter business controls in several areas, including food safety. Nearly three-quarters of poll respondents support stricter regulation relating to food safety.

Every Democrat running for the Senate this year, no matter from which state, ought to put up a TV ad right away full of photos of young kids who have been sickened, and died, from foodborne illnesses.

With Democrats just one vote shy to get this important bill over the finish line, all of these candidates should pledge to be the deciding vote to pass better food safety.

Crafted with the right messages, and advertising, there is no reason why food safety couldn’t be — shouldn’t be — the defining issue for the 2010 elections.

Politicians always like to talk about standing up for families, and helping children. Well, this would be one concrete way to do it.

Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. This article was first published as Conservatives, Fancy A Splash Of E. Coli In Your Tea? on Blogcritics.

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