AR-Sen: Sen. Lincoln Hesitates Over Whether You Should Eat Tainted Food

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    Allow me to share with you a classic Arkansas-boy-meets-tainted-burger tale of love and debilitating illness.

    EL PASO, AR — Thomas Whitmire, 13, didn’t know the hamburger he ate a year ago would send him into the worse health crisis of his life, and result in a trip to the nation’s capitol to warn others about food safety.”It was the day of a church thing we were going to one Friday, and we went to get something to eat,” Thomas said, describing how his odyssey began. “I didn’t show any symptoms until Saturday. I had to go to the hospital twice and get IV’s [sic] because I could[n’t] eat or drink anything[,] and I was dehydrated.”

    The first trip came when Thomas literally couldn’t walk, and the second trip to the hospital came after he began to pass blood, his mother, Melissa Whitmire, said.

    [***]

    Months later Thomas and his mother were invited to Washington, D.C. by Safe Tables Our Priority (S.T.O.P.), part of the Make Our Food Safe Coalition made up of several advocacy groups. The focus of the trip was meetings with U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln (Dem.-Ark.) in relation to Senate Bill 510, the Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act.

    “We were shocked when we got to Washington,” Melissa said. “We were told the laws governing the food laws hadn’t been updated in 70 years.”

    [***]

    “We are very fortunate and consider ourselves very blessed that Thomas survived,” Melissa said. “It was very humbling and emotionally overwhelming listening to the stories of all the families who lost their children, parents or spouses to food poisoning. We are hoping to celebrate with all of those families if this bill is made into law later this year.”

    Interesting enough, but you are probably thinking “cool story, Hansel” and wondering what this has to do with anything. The answer lies in Senate Bill 510, which could come up for debate as early as next week. While the article above mentions Blanche Lincoln only in her capacity as little Thomas’s senior Senator, it’s Lincoln’s oft-touted role as chair of the Agricultural Committee that really makes all of this noteworthy due to SB 510’s potential impact on farming operations.

    You see, SB 510 would, inter alia, impose tougher rules on large producers of chickens (along with many other foods) foods regulated by the FDA such as spinach and tomatoes in an attempt to reduce the number of generally preventable cases of illness and death due to foodborne illnesses, including the 76 million cases of food poisoning reported each year in America.  Specifically, SB 510 would protect consumers by:

    • Requiring food processors to identify where contamination may occur in the food production process, and then requiring them to take steps to prevent the contamination;
    • Increasing FDA inspection of food-processing plants;
    • Basing inspection frequency on the risk of the product being produced;
    • Requiring imported food to meet the same safety standards as food produced in the U.S.;
    • Establishing science-based minimum standards for safe agricultural production of fresh produce and directing FDA to consult with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and state agriculture departments on regulations to prevent the contamination of fresh produce;
    • Improving coordination across federal, state, and local governments and providing grants to build state and local capacity for foodborne illness detection, surveillance, laboratories, and response; and
    • Providing FDA with mandatory recall authority – something the agency does not currently have.

    All of this sounds great, right?  Not to Blanche Lincoln, who has expressed some reservations and questions about the bill.  Primarily, she is concerned with carving out exceptions for — you guessed it — certain farms.  (Though she claims to be working on an exception for “small farms,” she has yet to define “small” as far as I can tell.  Until she does, one is not out of line in assuming that, somehow, nearly every Arkansas-based farm will be included in her proposed exceptions.)

    The only arguments that I can find against SB 510 mirror the hyperbolic hysterics of this Tea Party group “discussing” why SB 510 “must be stopped.” In my book, that these nuts are so vehemently against the bill suggests that it is probably a good law.  But, hey, at least these nutbags are attempting to explain why they oppose the measure.  If Senator Lincoln really hopes to win over liberals and progressive who currently consider her the posterchild for DINOs, she would do good to follow that example and explain her hesitation or at least explain what she considers a “small” farm.

    Forgive me if I don’t hold my breath.