Tom Harkin is making an effort to give FDA some teeth and more inspectors, for good reason:
Each year, 300,000 Americans are hospitalized and 5,000 die from food contamination, according to a Health and Human Services Department report that was released earlier this month. While the number of food facilities has increased, the percentage of inspections has decreased, to 22 percent in fiscal year 2008 from 29 percent in 2004.
Unfortunately, he’s running up against the oldest chestnut in the book, the myth of the noble farmer. That myth allows a farm spokesman to say this without being laughed out of the room:
“The way it’s written, it essentially gives the FDA the ability to go into any farm and tell people how to run their farms, which is inappropriate,” she said.
Every restaurant in the United States, even those owned by hard-working families, is subject to this kind of “inappropriate” oversight. But farmers, unlike restaurant owners, are salt-of-the-earth, romantic figures. So, instead of having the power to close down dirty farms, the FDA has to beg noble individualists like the Peanut Corporation of America to remove their salmonella-laden peanut butter from the market.
I’d like to believe that Harkin’s effort will bear fruit, but I’m afraid that we’re so in love with our bullshit fairy tales that we’d rather eat that shit than give up our cherished illusions.