Thursday, August 30, 2007

US gives consumers a day to discuss unsafe imports

I can't believe the hypocrisy of this Bush administration. Here is a short Reuters News story to read:

WASHINGTON, Aug 30 (Reuters) - The Bush administration will conduct a meeting this fall to hear Americans' advice on how to stem a wave of unsafe imports from China and other countries, officials said on Thursday.

The all-day meeting on Oct. 1 at the Agriculture Department in Washington is designed to gather suggestions about how the government and companies can better ensure the safety of imported food and other products.

U.S. consumers have been jarred in recent months by a spate of recalls of unsafe children's toys, chemical-laced toothpaste, and dangerous additives in pet food and seafood.

Most of the goods under scrutiny come from China. Beijing is taking steps to crack down on unscrupulous exporters, but it also is seeking to fend off some of the blame.

Bush's panel, headed by Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt and including officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the Food and Drug Administration, the Agriculture Department and other agencies, will present two reports this fall.

An Agriculture Department official said comments from October's meeting, made in person or teleconference, will contribute to the second report which will set out specific actions the government can take to safeguard against perilous products.

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We've got a national problem here--too many unsafe imports coming in from China! How do we resolve the problem? Obviously the Bush White House doesn't have a clue here, which is why they scheduling this special meeting between government officials and consumers on how to stem these unsafe products from entering the country. Sounds very serious, doesn't it?

Now let me point you to this July 27, 2007 CBS News story, titled Shrinking Consumer Agency Losing Ground:

(AP) The Consumer Product Safety Commission could soon shrink to the point where it can't effectively protect the public, veteran Commissioner Thomas Moore says.

Many employees at the agency responsible for overseeing the safety of many thousands of consumer products are looking for other jobs because "they have no confidence the agency will continue to exist — or will exist in any meaningful form," Moore said in a statement Thursday.

"The commission can either continue to decline in staff, resources and stature to the point where it is no longer an effective force in consumer protection," said Moore, "or with the support of Congress it can regain the important place in American society it was originally designed to have."

The number of full-time staffers has shrunk to about 400, less than half the size of the staff in 1980.


The agency also has been hampered by a vacancy on its three-member commission.

With only two of three commissioners, the agency had no quorum and has been unable to make rules about product standards, mandate recalls and assess civil penalties for the last six months.

Congress could soon restore those powers to the agency for a limited time despite the commission vacancy.

Bush's pick to head the safety commission, Michael Baroody, withdrew his nomination in May after strong opposition from some Senate Democrats because of his career as a manufacturers' lobbyist.

Do you see the contradiction here? The Bush administration is more than happy to strangle the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) so that the administration's corporate and manufacturing interests can sell cheap, unsafe products to American consumers for more profit. Look at who President Bush nominated to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission--a lobbyist for the manufacturing agency! Michael Baroody was a senior lobbyist for the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). Baroody called for the weakening of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and President Bush was more than happy to install Baroody as head of the commission. Of course, it didn't help that Baroody was getting a $150,000 severance check from NAM for his services as a lobbyist, just before he had planned to take over as head of the CPSC. This scandal forced Baroody to withdrawal his nomination in May, 2007. And President Bush has yet to appoint a successor here. And why should he? If the Bush White House couldn't politicize the CPSC with the appointment of Baroody, then the next best alternative is to leave the agency hampered as it is. And manufacturers can continue flooding the U.S. market with unsafe products.

And it is not just the Consumer Product Safety Commission here. Consider what the Bush administration has done to the Food and Drug Administration. According to this Feb 26, 2007 ABC News story:

The federal agency that's been front and center in warning the public about tainted spinach and contaminated peanut butter is conducting just half the food safety inspections it did three years ago.

The cuts by the Food and Drug Administration come despite a barrage of high-profile food recalls.

"We have a food safety crisis on the horizon," said Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia.

Between 2003 and 2006, FDA food safety inspections dropped 47 percent, according to a database analysis of federal records by The Associated Press.

That's not all that's dropping at the FDA in terms of food safety. The analysis also shows:

There are 12 percent fewer FDA employees in field offices who concentrate on food issues.

Safety tests for U.S.-produced food have dropped nearly 75 percent, from 9,748 in 2003 to 2,455 last year, according to the agency's own statistics.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the FDA, at the urging of Congress, increased the number of food inspectors and inspections amid fears that the nation's food system was vulnerable to terrorists. Inspectors and inspections spiked in 2003, but now both have fallen enough to erase the gains.

"The only difference is now it's worse, because there are more inspections to do more facilities and more food coming into America, which requires more inspections," said Tommy Thompson, who as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services pushed to increase the numbers. He's now part of a coalition lobbying to turn around several years of stagnant spending.

The Bush administration's budget request for 2008 includes an additional $10.6 million for food safety at the FDA; the lobbying group said 10 times that increase is needed. Even though the FDA increased its overall spending on food between 2003 and 2006, those increases failed to keep pace with rising personnel costs.

"It's not just outsiders like us who have been watching it for a while. People who worked in the Bush administration are coming out and saying the agency is not working at its current resource levels. It just can't manage the job," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group.


The United States last year imported about $10 billion more in food, feed and beverages than it exported, according to Census figures. Even as imports grow in volume and diversity, the number of FDA inspections is shrinking: agency inspectors physically examined just 1.3 percent of food imports last year, about three-quarters as much as in 2003.


A recent Government Accountability Office report noted that most of the $1.7 billion the federal government allocates to food safety goes to the Agriculture Department, which is responsible for regulating about 20 percent of the food supply. The FDA, responsible for most of the other 80 percent, gets about 24 percent of the total.

So while the U.S. is importing more food from abroad, the number of FDA inspectors have been shrinking. This is forcing the inspectors to inspect even less of the nation's food supply, causing a greater vulnerability to our food supply.

Let's also not forget who President Bush chose to serve as commissioner of the FDA:

President Bush nominated Andrew von Eschenbach to serve as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration yesterday, but a dispute over the “morning-after” pill all but ensures the nomination will go nowhere for months or even years.

A Bush family friend, von Eschenbach was appointed acting FDA commissioner in September when his predecessor abruptly resigned over financial disclosure problems.

Eschenbach also has some major connections with the Big Pharmaceutical companies, which brings up even more questions of whether Eschenback will protect the American public's health over that of the profits from Big Pharma.

Finally, I want to include this May 23, 2004 Denver Post article showing what happens when the Bush administration chooses industry lobbyists to become regulators:

WASHINGTON -- In a New York City ballroom days before Christmas, a powerful Bush administration lawyer made an unprecedented offer to drug companies, one likely to protect their profits and potentially hurt consumers.

Daniel E. Troy, lead counsel for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, extended the government's help in torpedoing certain lawsuits. Among Troy's targets: claims that medications caused devastating and unexpected side effects.

Pitch us lawsuits that we might get involved in, Troy told several hundred pharmaceutical attorneys, some of them old friends and acquaintances from his previous role representing major U.S. pharmaceutical firms.

The offer by the FDA's top attorney, made Dec. 15 at the Plaza Hotel, took the agency responsible for food and drug safety into new territory.

"The FDA is now in the business of helping lawsuit defendants, specifically the pharmaceutical companies," said James O'Reilly, University of Cincinnati law professor and author of a book on the history of the FDA. "It's a dramatic change in what the FDA has done in the past."

Troy's switch from industry advocate to industry regulator overseeing his former clients is a hallmark of President Bush's administration.

Troy is one of more than 100 high-level officials under Bush who helped govern industries they once represented as lobbyists, lawyers or company advocates, a Denver Post analysis shows.

In at least 20 cases, those former industry advocates have helped their agencies write, shape or push for policy shifts that benefit their former industries. They knew which changes to make because they had pushed for them as industry advocates.

The president's political appointees are making or overseeing profound changes affecting drug laws, food policies, land use, clean-air regulations and other key issues.

Government watchdogs call it a disturbing trend, not adequately restrained by existing ethics laws.

Among the advocates-turned-regulators are a former meat-industry lobbyist who helps decide how meat is labeled; a former drug-company lobbyist who influences prescription-drug policies; a former energy lobbyist who, while still accepting payments for bringing clients into his old lobbying firm, helps determine how much of the West those former clients can use for oil and gas drilling.

"When you go to work in lobbying, it is clearly understood and accepted that your job is to advocate for the interests of those who hired you," said Terry L. Cooper, a University of Southern California ethics and government professor. "When you go to work in government, you are supposed to be responsible for upholding and maintaining whatever you can identify as the public interest."

The bottom line here is that the Bush administration was responsible for creating this entire mess of unsafe food and products getting into our market. The Bush White House is interested in only one thing--protecting their corporate and business masters, while providing them with a greater ability to rake in excessive profits at the expense, the health, and safety of the American public. The administration doesn't need to conduct this meeting with American consumers to decide how to improve the safety of imported products--just get rid of the industry lobbyists and corporate executives who are mis-regulating our government agencies, and start increasing the budgets of those agencies that protect us from unsafe food and product imports. And if the Bush White House balks at increasing the budget for these regulatory agencies...well...we can always take the $50 billion that President Bush wants to waste in the Iraq war, and use it to protect us from unsafe imported products.

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