Category Archives: Food Safety

If Big Business Wrote a Letter to Santa Claus this is What It Would Say

If Big Business wrote a bill to help itself get rid of regulations it didn’t like, what would that bill look like?

We don’t have to guess anymore. This week, a group of legislators introduced the Regulatory Improvement Act, a bill designed to “improve” our nation’s regulatory system, remove “government bureaucracy and red tape,” and help businesses avoid the “burden” of complying with safeguards and standards that protect our health, safety, environment and workers. Their solution? Have politicians appoint a panel to recommend regulations for Congress to ax in a rushed process.

The bill sets up a so-called “Regulatory Improvement Commission” tasked with an already predetermined outcome. That outcome is deregulation, plain and simple. Deregulation, you probably remember, led to the financial crisis of 2008. In a time when we’ve seen so many instances of industry bad actors — including at least 13 deaths due to faulty GM ignition switches that company officials knew had problems, years of toxic air pollution and water pollution from giant companies, and financial service companies like Sallie Mae taking advantage of our veterans — should we really be thinking about how to remove vital public protections for our health, safety, environment and financial security?

The commission’s mandate would be to modify, consolidate or repeal existing regulations to reduce compliance costs for business, completely ignoring the tremendous societal benefits that standards and safeguards give to the American people.

While it takes years for a federal agency to get a final rule out the door after numerous periods of public comment and review, this commission could erase this beneficial work within months. The review process is blatantly tilted toward benefitting corporate interests rather than the public interest. The procedure for how public comments on the commission’s reports are received, and even the way the commission is tasked with writing its reports on regulations are all slanted to examining the burden on businesses, never the benefits to the public. For instance, even the “costs” associated with doing taxes counts as a burden!

Supporters argue that the commission can review only those regulations finalized more than 10 years ago. Just think of how much progress we have made in the past four decades from the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Occupational Safety and Health Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and much, much more. Regulations created from these and other laws would now be at stake.

And if there is an outdated regulation that could be removed, would it be worth all of this effort? There may well be a regulation pertaining to floppy disks, fax machines or pagers—but no one uses them anymore, and those regulations aren’t costing us anything to have written down somewhere. Is it worth setting up a new commission to remove superfluous regulations like that? Besides, most agencies already look back at existing rules – in a process that is far more careful and less politicized than the one this bill proposes.

And after all this, the commission is completely unaccountable to the public. The bill expressly states that the commission is exempt from the requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (which requires public accessibility to meetings, open meetings and written advanced notice of a meeting a minimum of 15 days prior). According to the Regulatory Improvement Act, if just one member of the commission objects to a meeting being public, that meeting can be held in private.

Our vision for regulatory improvement

Nowhere does the Regulatory Improvement Act provide a way to update standards, make them stronger or more effective. If we were to write our own Regulatory Improvement Act, we would call for a regulatory review process that focuses attention on the need for stronger controls on corporations and expanded protections for the public.

Just because something is repeated often does not make it true. There is not an overabundance of regulation in this country. In reality, too much of our regulatory system has today slowed to a crawl, thanks in part to Big Business pushing at every point in the process to slow or stop new standards. They lobby against new laws; they lobby against new rules that agencies write under the existing laws; and then they lobby against strong enforcement of the rules that do get through.

By updating safeguards to better protect the public and making sure corporate bad actors are held accountable, our vision of regulatory improvement will be creating a system of standards and safeguards that better protects health and safety and puts everyone on a more equal footing, creating a fair economy for all.

Advertisements

The SCRUB Act: Another Anti-Regulatory Bill Targets Health, Safety, and Environmental Protections

(Cross-posted from the The Fine Print, the Center for Effective Government’s blog)

by Katie Weatherford, February 18, 2014

On Feb. 11, the House Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial, and Antitrust Law held a hearing on yet another anti-regulatory bill that attempts to undermine our nation’s important health, safety, and environmental protections. The bill, entitled the “Searching for and Cutting Regulations that are Unnecessarily Burdensome (SCRUB) Act of 2014,” would establish a “retrospective regulatory review commission” that would grant unaccountable, non-expert political appointees the power to override our nation’s most crucial health, safety, and environmental safeguards. Continue reading The SCRUB Act: Another Anti-Regulatory Bill Targets Health, Safety, and Environmental Protections

Senator Tester Says USDA Should Put the Brakes on Controversial Poultry Inspection Rule

Senator Jon Tester of Montana has expressed his concerns to the administration. In a recent letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Senator Tester wrote:

“Without adequate scientific analysis to ensure the new process improves the safety of poultry slaughter and evisceration plants, it is premature to propose a rule that would standardize these practices across all plants. USDA should delay the proposed rules and reevaluate the pilot on food safety and market competition.”

poultry-worker-small

Food safety and worker safety advocates have been campaigning against a proposal by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to “modernize” poultry inspection – by taking federal food safety inspectors off the line and essentially replacing them with processing company employees. It’s worrying for food safety because the company inspectors would have to visually inspect about three chickens per second; processing plants that have tried the system under a pilot program have produced birds contaminated with feathers, bile and feces. And it’s worrying for worker safety because poultry processing is already an extremely dangerous job, and the proposed rule would allow companies to speed up the lines. (Much more information in our poultry rule information center.)

The Senator is right to speak out. The rule is currently in USDA’s hands, but expected to be sent to the White House for review soon. The Obama Administration should stop this ill-conceived proposal in its tracks.

Consumer Protections at Stake in Trans-Atlantic “Trade” Deal

A “trade” deal only in name, the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) would require the United States and European Union (EU) to conform domestic food and product safety standards, financial regulations, climate policies, data privacy protections and other non-trade policies to TAFTA rules – rules that are being negotiated in secret.

Some products and services that do not meet U.S. health and safety standards could be allowed into our markets. State and local governments could be forced to weaken health and safety standards and give up long-standing tools for local job creation. And the U.S. could be required to conform to new standards negotiated for corporate convenience, instead of standards developed through state and national laws over decades. The goal is to finish the sweeping deal by the end of 2014.

The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards and Public Citizen have assembled a list of the 10 biggest threats that TAFTA poses to consumers, workers and the environment. See it here:

The Top Ten Threats of the Trans-Atlantic “Trade” Deal To Americans’ Daily Lives (11/07/13)

Congressional Mandates Obstructed, Public Pays the Price

On October 25, the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards co-sponsored Delayed, Diluted and Defunct: How Congressional Mandates are Thwarted by the Broken Regulatory Process, a briefing for Senate staff.

The speakers presented a series of examples of congressional mandates for public protections that were or are stalled or weakened in the rulemaking process — from food safety rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act to consumer financial protections mandated by the Dodd-Frank law and air pollution controls required by the Clean Air Act.

The speakers described the consequences of regulatory delay, such as when lives are lost while a worker safety regulation is delayed due to political interference or demands for additional analysis. They argued for transparency and de-ossifying the rulemaking process, and warned against a series of congressional bills that would make it harder for agencies to issue new protections mandated by congress.

Our thanks to the speakers: Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen; John Walke, Director of Clean Air Program, Natural Resources Defense Council; Peg Seminario, Health and Safety Director, AFL-CIO; Caroline Smith DeWaal, Food Safety Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest; Marcus Stanley, Policy Director, Americans for Financial Reform; Katherine McFate, President, Center for Effective Government.

To the sponsoring organizations: Center for Effective Government, Center for Progressive Reform, National Consumers League, Public Citizen, and the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards

And to the host, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight, Federal Rights and Agency Actions.

Among the materials provided at the briefing:

Bill in Congress:

  • Decoding the Bill: Lobbying Records Show That Electric Utility Industry Dominates Push for Deregulatory ‘REINS’ Legislation (Public Citizen)
  • The Independent Agency Regulatory Analysis Act: Politicizing Independent Agencies and Putting Americans in Harm’s Way (Coalition for Sensible Safeguards)
  • The Regulatory Accountability Act of 2013: Legislation Would Override and Threaten Decades of Public Protections (Coalition for Sensible Safeguards)
  • Return of the Regulatory Accountability Act: A Veiled Threat to Public Protections (Center for Effective Government)
  • Republican Bills Would Obstruct Enforcement of Environmental Laws (NRDC)
  • The REINS Act: Why Congress Should Hold its Horses (NRDC)

Regulatory Delay:

  • Clarity on Clean Water Protection Is Coming, but How Long Will it Take? (Center for Effective Government)
  • Testimony of Peg Seminario, Director Safety and Health, AFL-CIO Before the Subcommittee on Oversight, Federal Rights, and Agency Action Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on “Justice Delayed: The Human Cost of Regulatory Paralysis” (AFL-CIO)
  • Down the Regulatory Rabbit Hole: How Corporate Influence, Judicial Review and a Lack of Transparency Delay Crucial Rules and Harm the Public (Coalition for Sensible Safeguards)

Broken Regulatory Process:

  • Disclosure at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs: Written Comments and Telephone Records Suspiciously Absent (Center for Effective Government)
  • Key Recommendations for The Next Regulatory Czar’s Critical Mission: Will He Rebuild a Regulatory System that Works for the Public Interest? (Coalition for Sensible Safeguards)
  • The Perils of OIRA Regulatory Review: Reforms Needed to Address Rampant Delays and Secrecy (Public Citizen)
  • President’s Spring Agenda Signals Continued Delays on New Rules (Center for Effective Government)

SPLC urges federal agencies to protect poultry, meatpacking plant workers

Cross-posted from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The SPLC and a coalition of civil rights groups filed a formal petition today urging the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to better protect workers in poultry and meatpacking plants, where federal policies allow workers to operate in hazardous conditions that often leave them with disabling injuries, illnesses and pain.

The groups petitioned OSHA to issue new work speed standards to protect the workers responsible for making the United States the largest producer of poultry and beef in the world. OSHA has general health and safety rules for workplaces but does not regulate processing line speeds that often operate at a punishing pace.

The only federal agency regulating line speed is the USDA, which is solely focused on food safety and maximizing production for the industries. Though there is ample evidence that work speed is a primary contributor to injuries, the USDA has proposed increasing poultry processing line speeds from a maximum of 140 birds per minute to 175. The groups’ petition also calls on the USDA to reconsider its proposed rule change.

“Meatpacking and poultry processing line jobs are among the most notoriously dangerous jobs in the United States,” the group’s petition states. It notes that “OSHA’s current failure to regulate poultry and meat processing plant work speed puts plant workers at significant risk of permanently disabling cumulative trauma disorders,” such as carpal tunnel syndrome, which are caused by the extraordinary number of repetitive motions these workers perform.

The coalition includes the SPLC, Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, Coalition of Poultry Workers, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Farmworker Advocacy Network, Heartland Workers Center, Interfaith Worker Justice, Midwest Coalition for Human Rights, National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, North Carolina Justice Center, Northwest Arkansas Worker Justice Center, Refugee Women’s Network, Student Action with Farmworkers and Western North Carolina Workers’ Center.

Meat and poultry workers often make 20,000 cuts a day to the meat and poultry on the line. Many fear losing their jobs if they report injuries or ask for safer working conditions. This silence enables companies to hide true injury rates that are far higher than what is publicly reported.

The groups urge OSHA to implement the following changes to protect workers:

  • Establish a standard that limits work speeds.
  • Create standards that address the specific injuries caused by keeping up with the line speeds.
  • Ensure that existing safety guidelines are enforceable.

The groups also ask USDA to engage in thorough interagency consultation about worker safety before implementing its proposed poultry rule changes that would increase work speeds in poultry processing.

These hazards have been documented by the SPLC in its 2013 report Unsafe at These Speeds: Alabama’s Poultry Industry and its Disposable Workers. Nebraska Appleseed documented similar dangers in the meatpacking industry in its 2009 report The Speed Kills You: The Voice of Nebraska’s Meatpacking Workers.

Substantial medical and epidemiological research has concluded that rate of repetition is a major factor in disabling injuries. The groups’ findings have been echoed in worker interviews conducted by the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights. In June, the groups also called on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to address human rights violations in U.S. poultry and meatpacking plants.

The Human Cost of Regulatory Delay

Too often, important regulations that would protect Americans from harm are stalled for months or years in a regulatory process that has become needlessly byzantine and slow, with very real costs for workers, consumers and the broader public

 August is a great time for outdoor gatherings. No one should have to worry about whether their store-bought produce is safe to consume—especially when it comes to their kids. Delays have hindered the FDA’s efforts to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, slamming the brakes on necessary protections that would keep our fruit and vegetables safe. Draft rules on the safety of imported food took two years to be released, including more than one year stalled in White House review.

 As we pack up our cars and hit the road for vacation, backup cameras would give drivers needed visibility to avoid preventable accidents and deaths. Unfortunately, this auto safety rule has been in the works for more than five years, and far longer than Congress intended. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that backup cameras would prevent between 95-112 deaths and 7,072-8,374 injuries each year.

Finally, delayed energy efficiency rules have made cooling off with air conditioning more costly than necessary. The cost of the administration’s delay has already exceeded $4 billion in missed savings for consumers and businesses. The environmental damage has been no less significant.

  Regulatory delays have become so severe that many are now looking into it.  A newly formed Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Oversight, Federal Rights and Agency Action is holding its first hearing to investigate the problem on Aug. 1, bringing in those who know first hand the human costs of regulatory delay. Tune in to the webcast of this event and join us on Twitter to create a buzz around this hearing.