President Barack Obama is expected to endorse legislation backed by the domestic shrimp industry and others that would give the government more power than ever to establish and enforce food safety standards. Massive recalls, like the egg-driven salmonella outbreak that sickened more than 1,700 people this fall, helped push the bill past the finish line during Congress’ final days. The House and Senate put the finishing touches on the Food Safety Modernization Act last week and sent it to Obama for final consideration Wednesday. “With recent outbreaks of food-borne illness from common foods such as spinach, tomatoes, peanut butter, and cookie dough, the urgency of addressing this challenge could not be greater,” says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat.
While the bill, which empowers the Food and Drug Administration, can be interpreted as a last-minute victory for a Democrat-controlled Congress, both of Louisiana’s senators got behind the effort with yea votes.
It was a different story in the House, where the state’s only outgoing members — Reps. Joseph Cao, R-New Orleans, and Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville — missed the vote altogether. Melancon has represented the Acadiana region since 2005 and is leaving as Republicans prepare to take control of the lower chamber.
The rest of Louisiana’s congressional delegation voted against the food safety bill, including Reps. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman; Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette; Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge; and John Fleming, R-Shreveport.
Conservatives largely opposed the bill with accusations of overreaching — it gives the FDA authority to issue mandatory recalls, increase inspections and utilize new investigation techniques. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative-leaning think-tank, devalued the bill completely in a recent study, opining, “Americans do not want and cannot afford yet more unnecessary regulation and expansion of government. This proposal constitutes a costly and ineffective answer to a manufactured crisis.”
But closer to home, there are plenty of boosters. For instance, the Southern Shrimp Alliance has labeled the bill a “major step towards improving the Food and Drug Administration’s practices with respect to imported seafood.”
John Williams, executive director of the SSA, says the bill will allow state and local officials to act as an arm of the federal government to increase inspection and enforce safe seafood standards. It also includes new requirements for foreign food safety equivalence, foreign facility testing and increased penalties for violations. Overall, Williams says, it would “protect consumers and help level the playing field for U.S. shrimpers.”
Vitter negotiated most of the shrimp-related provisions in the bill pending Obama’s signature, based on another measure he had authored earlier in the current term. Vitter says he also included language to prohibit “port shopping,” which is a tactic foreign seafood producers use to find ports with loose safety requirements to sell seafood that would otherwise be rejected. It further requires that foreign importers follow “equivalence” standards to ensure that food safety processes meet FDA requirements.
Landrieu, meanwhile, unsuccessfully fought to tack on a massive amendment that would have forced the FDA to increase its testing of imported shrimp from less than 2 percent to 20 percent by 2015, among other requirements. But she did have a role in securing another rider that would impact yet one more seafood staple: The bill calls on the FDA to conduct public health and cost assessments before issuing any new regulations affecting the processing and consumption of raw oysters.
When the bill passed the Senate earlier this month, it likewise won praise from Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain, who called it a “major advance towards safeguarding the nation’s food supply.” He said farmers and other agriculture interests would benefit from several provisions in the bill, including:
* Expanding the food recall authority of the FDA * Establishing science-based minimum standards for safe production and harvesting of specific types of fresh fruits and vegetables * Allocating additional funding for facility inspections and food imported into the United States based on their risk profiles and increases inspections of all facilities * Requiring mandatory testing by federal laboratories or accredited non-federal laboratories * Improving traceability of fresh fruits and vegetables in the event of a food-borne illness outbreak * Setting up a pilot program to explore and evaluate methods for rapidly and effectively tracing processed foods to identify the source of an outbreak * Establishing training and education programs for state, local, territorial and tribal food safety officials on regulatory responsibilities and polices * Establishing stricter food safety controls on imported food * Authorizing officials to refuse entry of imported food into the U.S. if permission to inspect the food facility is denied * Determining if a foreign country can provide reasonable assurances that its food supply meets or exceeds U.S. food safety standards
“As much as I dislike additional red tape for farmers to navigate,” Strain says, “I believe these new measures will provide the framework to strengthen our food supply chain and prevent adulterated and contaminated food from entering the markets in the future.”
Obama is expected to take action on the bill in the coming days.
MAY 17 Here's a column from James Gill, this time in the Advocate. Gill, who has jumped ship from the Picayune, writes about the absurdity of dueling polls in this post. The numbers are so wildly different, it is obvious that both sides are "cooking the books," he writes. In particular, he looks at Sen. Mary Landrieu, and how her recent actions in DC have been received by those polled. Gill's acerbic, amusing prose is a welcome addition to a paper so conservative as to be occasionally lacking in personality.
MAY 17 Blogger Tom Aswell continues delivering bombshells about the state education department and Gov. Jindal's education "reform" efforts. In this post, he reports that students in the Shreveport area have been signed up for a charter school without their knowledge or consent. Most interesting to Aswell is how this Texas-based charter (with ties to GOP types) got the personal student information it has, if the students didn't give it.
MAY 17 This post by JR Ball in the Baton Rouge Business Report is an interesting tongue-in-cheek look at recent Baton Rouge economic development efforts. Among the items he examines is the idea that gaining a Costco makes BR a "world-class city." (Really? All you need is a different brand of Sam's? MK!) This effort, and other recent ones, are all built on the taxpayer's back, with tax zones, tax incentives and tax rebates, Ball writes.
MAY 17 Blogger CB Forgotston is critical of the legislature's reliance on a revenue-estimating committee's decision to include projected tax amnesty income in this year's forecast. That's a problem, CB posts, because the deadline for these people to pay their taxes is June 30, 2014. So when do you think these people who haven't paid taxes in years are going to pay their taxes? Surely not before June 30, and that means the money won't be there for this year's budget, he argues.
MAY 17 Here's an interesting blog out of California by a Hollywood writer, attorney and academic named Brian Alan Lane. He blogs about higher ed, and was a whistle-blower in a scandal over false credentials. In this post, he takes aim at LSU's new top dog, King Alexander. It's convoluted and a little confusing, but it sure makes Alexander a lot more interesting than he was yesterday.
MAY 17 Blogger Robert Mann writes about the LSU Board's refusal to allow Dr. Fred Cerise to testify before the legislature about Gov. Jindal's plan to close down all the state's charity hospitals and dump the poor on the private system. It's hard to imagine anyone more qualified than Cerise to testify about that, so why would anyone try to prevent him doing so? Mann thinks it is because the powers that be aren't interested in hearing any truth about the plan.
MAY 17 This post on the Louisiana Sinkhole Bugle, a blog that notes developments in the Bayou Corne and Jefferson Island salt domes, talks about a proposed expansion of the salt dome storage under Lake Peigneur in Iberia Parish. Residents are working against it for several reasons, including two biggies: the sinkhole disaster in Bayou Corne and the continuing, unexplained bubbling on the surface of the Lake.
MAY 17 NOLA police arrested more people Thursday accused of either being involved in the Mother's Day shooting or hiding the suspect afterward, this Gambit story reports. The NOLA police chief said he suspects the whole thing was gang-related and throws out a challenge to the gangs: he's got informants now, he says, and he knows a lot more than the gangs want him to know. The people who live in the neighborhoods terrorized by gangs are ready to talk, he says.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
Is it a crime for citizens to photograph, video, or take notes of a police officer in the line of duty, or a right protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? Locally, such activity, as witnessed recently, will at the very least result in a night spent behind bars.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.