Our long national nightmare is over. Phusion Projects, the makers of Four Loko brand caffeinated malt beverages, announced yesterday that it will remove the caffeine from its products. Phusion’s decisions came just one day after Senator Chuck Schumer (D–NY) pushed the Food and Drug Administration to ban “these dangerous and toxic drinks.”
Unfortunately Schumer never explained what exactly makes these drinks “dangerous and toxic.” For now, Americans are still free to buy malt beverages. And for a limited time they are also still free to buy caffeinated drinks like coffee and Red Bull. So please, nobody tell Schumer how easy it is to buy alcohol and caffeine and mix them together. Because then Schumer might pressure the FDA to take away your morning coffee and table wine, too.
The reality is that there is little known medical evidence that caffeinated malt beverages are less safe than other alcoholic drinks. But that fact is no defense against current FDA power to ban products it deems unsafe for the American people. And now Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–NV) wants to grant the FDA even more unaccountable administrative authority. Specifically, he is pushing for passage of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act in the lame duck session that opened this week.
Representative John Dingell (D–MI), who sponsored the companion bill approved by Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) House in July 2009, hailed the proposed act as “a monumental piece of bipartisan legislation that will grant FDA the authorities and resources needed to effectively oversee an increasingly global food marketplace.” And it is true: Our food marketplace is increasingly global. But that does not mean it is any less safe. In fact, the data show that just the opposite is true: Between 1996 and 2009 the rate of confirmed food-borne bacterial contamination has fallen by a third. But science has never been FDA’s strong suit. According to a recent survey by the Government Accountability Office, only 36 percent of FDA managers believe the agency is keeping pace with scientific advances.
So just how big an expansion of government does Dingell, Pelosi, and Reid want to inflict on the American people to combat a non-existent food safety crisis? Well, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the legislation would require 50,000 domestic and foreign inspections in 2015, compared to just 7,400 in 2009. That is a sevenfold increase in government inspections. And the government would be reaching into a lot of new places as well. The act requires that all food “facilities”—including those home-based businesses that make jam, bread, and cheese for local markets—would be required to undertake periodic hazard analyses and produce “risk-based preventive controls.”
And then there is the wasteful spending that accompanies every liberal expansion of government: grants to schools for allergy management ($107 million); food safety training, education, outreach, and technical assistance ($21 million); and food safety participation grants for states and tribes ($83 million). Heritage Research Fellow in Regulatory Policy Diane Katz writes: “The Reid bill clearly contradicts the message sent by voters just two weeks ago: 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.”
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