In his March 14 weekly address, President Obama said things like “protecting the safety of our food and drugs is one of the most fundamental responsibilities government has” and “no parent should have to worry that their child is going to get sick from their lunch.”
What is that I hear? Common sense and concern emanating from the White House? We’re so used to the callous let-them-eat-cake attitude that I can hardly believe my ears. And if food safety is on Obama’s agenda, does that mean he’s going to address the agricultural issues that Michael Pollan has been writing and talking about for years, most recently in his Dear Mr. Next President letter that ran in NY Times Magazine?
We can only hope. Here are some of my favorite excerpts from Obama’s speech:
But in recent years, we’ve seen a number of problems with the food making its way to our kitchen tables. In 2006, it was contaminated spinach. In 2008, it was salmonella in peppers and possibly tomatoes. And just this year, bad peanut products led to hundreds of illnesses and cost nine people their lives — a painful reminder of how tragic the consequences can be when food producers act irresponsibly and government is unable to do its job. Worse, these incidents reflect a troubling trend that’s seen the average number of outbreaks from contaminated produce and other foods grow to nearly 350 a year — up from 100 a year in the early 1990s.
And it’s also because the FDA has been underfunded and understaffed in recent years, leaving the agency with the resources to inspect just 7,000 of our 150,000 food processing plants and warehouses each year. That means roughly 95% of them go uninspected.
When I heard peanut products were being contaminated earlier this year, I immediately thought of my 7-year old daughter, Sasha, who has peanut butter sandwiches for lunch probably three times a week. No parent should have to worry that their child is going to get sick from their lunch.