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Food Integrity Campaign Blog

Buyers Beware: Food Deregulation and the Threat to Public Health

Food Integrity Campaign | August 14, 2017

When Chris Christofferson fed her child Beck a rice snack, she thought nothing of it. It was one of his favorite foods, and Chris was happy to feed Beck crisps seasoned with spinach and kale. But it wasn’t long after feeding Beck this snack that he started having stomach problems.

Chris assumed Beck had the flu. But when he became even sicker, they took him to the hospital. The doctors said Beck wasn’t sick with the flu, but with Salmonella Wandsworth. The specific strain was one that was widely reported in China, the same country where the kale was from. Beck got better, but his doctors worried about future symptoms: because he was infected with salmonella early in his childhood, his digestion could be adversely affected for the rest of his life.

Chris’s story, like too many others, is a result of deregulation. The deregulation agenda has kicked into high gear under the current administration, and no piece of legislation encapsulates this agenda more than the Regulation Accountability Act (RAA). The RAA will require federal agencies to adopt the most cost-effective methods of regulating goods, not methods that most protect consumers. As Chris says, “there’s a reason that people are calling the RAA the ‘Filthy Food Act.’” Without proper oversight, stories of sick kids poisoned by salmonella will proliferate, and thousands of needless deaths will occur nationwide.

The Trump administration has been an enemy of regulation from the beginning. Early in his term, President Trump signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to find two regulations that they could repeal when proposing a new regulation. That means each step toward safety is two steps back. For regulations such as the HIMP rulederegulation in the guise of a regulation—one food safety rule passed means three struck down. Many suspect that along with increased line speeds for hog slaughter, poultry line speeds will be further increased. With both the executive and legislative branch on the same team, there’s little chance that effective resistance to this deregulation can be mounted at a federal level.

It’s evident that constituents have nothing to gain from these repeals of regulation. But who does? Big business, baby! A scan of the legislation that has recently come under consideration through the Congressional Review Act clearly demonstrates this.

In addition to the RAA, another example of creeping corporate interest in regulation is the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act (REINS), which gives regulatory oversight to Congress rather than agency officials. Corporate donors and moneyed contributors, who already have the ear of congressional leaders, then have a chance to recommend their own regulations. These ones will no doubt help their bottom line. And while many corporations may bandy about the phrase ‘job creation’, this deregulation will only end up endangering everyday people. Businesses will use this lack of oversight to cut costs and corners. In the end, regular Americans will be left hopelessly in the dark and made vulnerable by the very institutions that are tasked with serving them.

By shifting responsibility to Congress, REINS shows that the War on Science is not just limited to climate change denial, but extends across federal agencies. By refusing to take the advice of experts and instead allowing Congress to appease donors through sacrificing the health of everyday Americans, legislators have essentially stopped up their ears to truth.

This frantic deregulation reveals the powers that be for what they really are: inveterately classist. What matters to members of Congress and the political establishment at large is not the content of your character, but of your checkbook. To them, we are little more than consumers, and they cling to the old adage, “buyer beware.”

Maxwell Black is an undergraduate at Harvard and an intern at the Food Integrity Campaign.