October 4, 2013

The Shutdown, the FDA, Antibiotics, and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

RS2533_Capitol-Cropped4The federal shutdown. Where to begin? By now we all have been deluged with news of the impact of the House Republican’s seditious actions on functions such as WIC (the program that provides food assistance for women, infants, and children), the CDC flu program, food safety programs run by the FDA, veterans’ benefits, some Head Start programs, some NIH clinical trials, and other important programs. Sedition is defined as the stirring up of discontent, resistance, or rebellion against the government. I find the actions of the Tea Party Republicans fitting that definition as they shut down the government in an attempt to undo a law passed by a previous Congress, signed by the President, and found constitutional by the Supreme Court. Their actions have made this a good week for pathogens and ignorance—and some very bad weeks ahead for vulnerable populations in this country. As far as the food system is concerned, there are some specific effects, outlined here on ModernFarmer.com. In particular, the shutdown will further delay progress on the farm bill, if “progress” is even the right word for it.

Obamacare. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, dubbed Obamacare, is at the center of the fundamentalist rebellion in Congress led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R–Texas), so I’d like to say a few words about it. While the extremist faction currently waging battle against our government proclaims that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is bad for the U.S., I see this first step toward health reform as promising and significant, and I believe it will take us closer to fulfilling the right to health. (Here’s the Washington Post’s guide to the law.) It’s disturbing to me that the mutinous tantrum over Obamacare will affect the health of so many by disturbing operations at WIC and the Veterans Administration, but I am thankful that we can partially fulfill the right to food through SNAP and the federal school lunch program, at least through October. (Of course, SNAP’s reach is up for debate in the farm bill, which has been delayed.)

FDA and arsenicals. In a Sunday letter to the editor of the Washington Post, Susan Vaughn Grooters of Center for Scientists in the Public Interest writes that the lukewarm steps that have been taken by the federal government to address the growing threat of antibiotic resistance are not enough. She writes, “The 2 million antibiotic-resistant illnesses per year in the United States suggest that ‘laudable’ efforts are not enough to address this crisis.” Just a couple days later, the FDA announced that it would withdraw approvals for three arsenical drugs—roxarsone, carbarsone, and arsanilic acid—that are used in chicken and pig feed. CLF played a critical role in helping the Center for Food Safety and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy with the lawsuit that pressured the FDA into this move. We will continue to help our partners apply pressure on FDA to withdraw the fourth and final arsenical, nitarsone. Only then can we be assured that arsenic, a known carcinogen, will be removed from our food.

Happier happy meals. McDonald’s announced that it will no longer market soda as a beverage option in Happy Meals targeted at children. (Story on NPR The Salt.) Sadly, this obvious and long overdue step represents a major advance in the U.S. food economy. Sugar-sweetened beverages now constitute 7-8 percent of daily calories for the average child in America, contributing to the problems of overweight and obesity, the metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes.

And in other news. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola has gone “natural” (yeah, right), meteorologist Eric Holthaus read the International Panel on Climate Change report from last week and pledged to never fly again (public outcry ensued), Monsanto has spent $4.6 million to defeat GMO labeling in the upcoming vote in Washington State, and a new report released by GRACE Communications demonstrates how aquatic life is being harmed by power plants (and recommends better practices).

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