Make America’s Food Dangerous Again. Er, just kidding.
That’s basically what US Republican presidential hopeful Donald J. Trump pitched to the American people late Thursday (Sept. 15), in an anti-regulatory fact sheet published to his website. Hours later, he deleted the section that vowed to dismantle the US food safety apparatus.
A Republican political candidate pledging to slash government regulations would appear to be a safe move—unless, when it comes to specifics, most Americans are clearly in the opposite camp. We don’t know what motivated Trump to home in on the “food police,” but it’s probably not a great play at a time when a majority of Americans say they don’t believe their food is safe.
Consider this section of Trump’s regulation elimination plan (now deleted):
The FDA Food Police, which dictate how the federal government expects farmers to produce fruits and vegetables and even dictates the nutritional content of dog food. The rules govern the soil farmers use, farm and food production hygiene, food packaging, food temperatures, and even what animals may roam which fields and when. It also greatly increased inspections of food “facilities,” and levies new taxes to pay for this inspection overkill.
The world’s largest food company—which typically steers clear of openly addressing political matters—dispatched this timely tweet:
US consumers are smarting from a recent string of high-profile food recalls, including from Blue Bell Creameries, Chipotle Mexican Grill, and General Mills. A June Harris poll found more than three-quarters of Americans are concerned about food safety.
Trump, who said he wanted to ax farm and food production hygiene regulations, may have missed these recent cases:
- In 2002, Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. recalled a whopping 27.4 million pounds of chicken after listeria was discovered in one of its plants. The discovery prompted what would become the largest meat recall in US history.
- In 2007, ConAgra failed to properly maintain one of its peanut butter plants in Sylvester, Georgia. That led to salmonella-tainted Peter Pan peanut butter that sickened more than 600 people. The company was fined $11.2 million.
- In 2009, executives at the Peanut Corporation of America actually knew their peanut butter production plant was tainted with salmonella and it still shipped product to consumers.
- In 2015, inadequate supply chain surveillance led to a norovirus outbreak at Chipotle Mexican Grill, sickening more than 300 people across 14 states, and hospitalizing 22. Foot traffic at its restaurants has plummeted by 20%, the company said in July.
As for unwinding food temperature regulations, he might want to look into the 1993 incident at Jack in the Box, in which undercooked burgers sickened 732 people and killed four children, after the Washington state public health department had told the company to increase burger-cooking temperatures by 15°F. The company decided not to listen.
Food-related illnesses tend to decline when the US government pressures companies to raise safety standards. Given that roughly 20% of Americans fall ill from food poisoning each year, those standards are probably worth holding onto.