Presidential candidate Donald Trump ignited controversy in mid-September when his campaign website suggested eliminating “the FDA Food Police” and advocated rescinding several food safety regulations. The Trump campaign called into question the FDA’s oversight of farm soil, food hygiene, and safe food temperature recommendations.
In an odd stroke of poetic irony, the term “overkill” was actually invoked to argue against the public health role the FDA plays in the inspection of food manufacturing facilities. Fortunately for American gastrointestinal tracts, and after a public outcry, the campaign backed off of its anti-FDA proposals.
Any move to reduce the number of food safety inspectors—or, for that matter, any other action that would hamper FDA enforcement powers—would leave unrealized the legislative achievements of one of the most important and future-minded public health laws in America: the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
Hamstringing the FDA (the federal agency tasked with enforcing FSMA) would make FSMA an unrealized “dead letter.”
Such a term was used over a century ago by another food-regulation commentator. In October 1890, Robert Wallace, a professor of agriculture in Scotland, delivered a lecture to British students interested in the American beef export trade to Great Britain. Wallace’s lecture covered many aspects of the then-growing transatlantic livestock and meat trade, animal disease controls, and related economic policies.
And his wise words on the importance of regulatory enforcement are worth heeding in today’s political environment. In his remarks, Wallace stressed that a law on-the-books but unenforced “remains to all intents and purposes a dead letter.”