Beck invents facts to attack food safety bill


Glenn Beck distorted a Congressional Budget Office cost estimate to claim that food-safety legislation would mean "higher taxes for you," baselessly claimed the bill would drive up food costs, and underplayed concerns about food safety. Beck demonized the legislation as a George Soros-backed effort to "control you."

Beck distorts CBO report to claim legislation means "higher taxes for you"

Beck: Food Safety Modernization Act "will mean higher taxes for you." During the November 29 edition of his Fox News show, Glenn Beck claimed that the Food Safety Modernization Act is "going to mean higher taxes for you as well. Congressional Budget Office estimates between $1.4 billion and up, between 2011 and 2015." Beck said the bill represented a George Soros-backed effort to "control your food" and "control you." [Glenn Beck, 11/29/10]

FACT: CBO said the bill would "increase spending subject to appropriation" -- not taxes. In its cost estimate of the Food Safety Modernization Act, the CBO wrote, "CBO estimates that implementing the bill with the manager's amendment would increase spending subject to appropriation, on net, by about $1.4 billion over the 2011-2015 period, assuming annual appropriation action consistent with the bill." [Congressional Budget Office, 8/12/10]

FACT: CBO said the bill would authorize collection of fees from food manufacturers -- not "higher taxes for you." In its cost estimate, CBO reported:

S. 510 would amend and modify the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to authorize the FDA to collect fees to help defray some of the FDA's costs of performing food safety activities. The bill would create new fee programs including: a facility reinspection and recall fee program for mandatory recalls, an importer fee program for voluntary qualified entities, and a fee program to support accreditation of third-party auditors.

The legislation also would authorize the FDA to collect fees for food (including animal feed) export certificates under the current export certification program. Fees are currently collected for drugs and devices that are issued export certifications.

Fees authorized by the bill would be collected and made available for obligation only to the extent and in the amounts provided in advance in appropriation acts. As a result, those collections would be credited as an offset to discretionary spending.[Congressional Budget Office, 8/12/10]

Beck baselessly claims bill will result in higher grocery prices

Beck: The cost to "you at the grocery story" is "expected to be hundreds of millions of dollars every year." From the November 29 edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck:

BECK: Cost to the private sector -- you know, you at the grocery store? Now, they haven't calculated that yet, but it is expected to be hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

FACT: Michigan State University professor says bill "isn't likely to make a huge dent" in food prices. As Media Matters documented, Craig Harris of the Food Safety Policy Center at Michigan State University reportedly said that the bill is unlikely to raise consumers' food costs:

Although costs of food production may rise as a result of the bill, the amount isn't likely to make a huge dent in most large food companies' profits, Harris said, so the added costs shouldn't trickle down to the consumers. For small companies and local farmers, the bill includes exemptions and special accommodations, recognizing that some companies may not be able to keep up with the costs of adopting new safety practices.

Beck underplays food-safety problem

Beck: "Is there a big problem" with food safety "that I don't know of?" From the November 29 edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck:

BECK: Congress is working hard to make sure that the food that you eat is completely safe. Now, you might be thinking to yourself, "Glenn, I think my food is already safe." But that's just how stupid you are. They know better in Washington.

Apparently, our food is very unsafe. That's why tonight, the Senate is scheduled to start voting on S510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. It is fanta-- it's gonna be so modern, what they're doing. May I ask you, who on the planet has a safer food supply than we do while feeding 300 million people? Is it China? Is it India? Is it -- oh, is it Great Britain? Ooh, Sweden? Oh, no.

Is there a big problem that I don't know of? I mean, I know that, you know, we could always make things better here. There was a problem with spinach a couple of years ago, and then guacamole or avocados, or something. I think that was quickly resolved -- minimal to no interruption of our normal food supply.


BECK: We could always improve, but there will be never be a perfect system with zero problems, will there?

FACT: GAO declared federal oversight of food safety a "high-risk" problem. From a 2007 Government Accountability Office report that was part of its series on "high-risk problems":

Each year, about 76 million people contract a food-borne illness in the United States; about 325,000 require hospitalization; and about 5,000 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, agriculture, as the largest industry and employer in the United States, generates more than $1 trillion in economic activity annually, or about 13 percent of the gross domestic product. The value of U.S. agricultural exports exceeded $68 billion in fiscal year 2006. An introduction of a highly infectious foreign animal disease, such as avian influenza or foot-and-mouth disease, would cause severe economic disruption, including substantial losses from halted exports. Similarly, food contamination, such as the recent E. coli outbreaks, can have a detrimental impact on local economies. For example, industry representatives estimate losses from the recent California spinach E. coli outbreak to range from $37 million to $74 million.

A challenge for the 21st century is how several federal agencies can integrate the myriad food safety programs and strategically manage their portfolios to promote the safety and integrity of the nation's food supply. In numerous previous reports, we have described the fragmented federal food safety system in which 15 agencies collectively administer at least 30 laws related to food safety. The two primary agencies are the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is responsible for the safety of meat, poultry, and processed egg products and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is responsible for virtually all other foods. Among other agencies with responsibilities related to food safety, the National Marine Fisheries Service in the Department of Commerce conducts voluntary, fee-for-service inspections of seafood safety and quality; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates the use of pesticides and maximum allowable residue levels on food commodities and animal feed; and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is responsible for coordinating agencies' food security activities.

The food safety system is further complicated by the subtle differences in food products that dictate which agency regulates a product as well as the frequency with which inspections occur. For example, how a packaged ham-and-cheese sandwich is regulated depends on how the sandwich is presented. USDA inspects manufacturers of packaged open-face meat or poultry sandwiches (e.g., those with one slice of bread), but FDA inspects manufacturers of packaged closed-face meat or poultry sandwiches (e.g., those with two slices of bread). Although there are no differences in the risks posed by these products, USDA inspects wholesale manufacturers of open-face sandwiches sold in interstate commerce daily, while FDA inspects closed-face sandwiches an average of once every 5 years.

This federal regulatory system for food safety evolved piecemeal, typically in response to particular health threats or economic crises. During the past 30 years, we have detailed problems with the fragmented federal food safety system and reported that the system has caused inconsistent oversight, ineffective coordination, and inefficient use of resources. [Government Accountability Office, January 2007]

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