We Asked Food Policy Experts What They Thought of Trump's Plan to Dissolve the FDA
If Trump gets his way, he probably should avoid eating pretty much any and all food—at least without a royal taste tester. But maybe he has one of those.
Photo by Stephen Lovekin/WireImage for Hill & Knowlton
Although we know he's a germaphobe, Donald Trump's food safety plan recently left the public more than a little confused.
Back in February, we told you that Donald Trump had just explained the underlying reason for his love of fast food. "I like cleanliness," Trump said, "and I think you're better off going [to fast food outlets] than maybe some place that you have no idea where the food is coming from." But then, yesterday, Trump's campaign suddenly removed a fact sheet about the candidate's food safety policy that it had posted on its website.
The disappearing fact sheet—which had been issued in advance of a speech Trump gave at the New York Economic Club—had advocated for fewer food safety regulations and the complete elimination of the "food police" at the Food and Drug Administration. He ended up not mentioning food safety at all in his speech.
So now we're left wondering: What is the unpredictable candidate's policy when it comes to food safety—and the regulation of fast food restaurants? If his original statement is in any way representative, he wants a lot less regulation of food, arguing that it is both burdensome to farmers and "overkill."
As Alastair Iles, one of the faculty co-directors of the Berkeley Food Institute, pointed out to MUNCHIES, "Trump says that he eats at fast food chains because these have better cleanliness standards. Ironically enough, these places are where you may face more risk of eating contaminated meat because they depend on meat mixed up from many sources."
According to The New York Times, the now-you-see-it-now-you-don't policy sheet mirrored, almost exactly, a May report issued by The Heritage Foundation, an influential conservative think tank that is known for its criticism of regulation in the food industry. The Heritage Foundation is against labeling of genetically engineered food, banning trans fats, and what is deems to be "overreach" by the FDA. Trump appears to be taking a page from their book—and then, mysteriously, removing said page from his own website.
Tom Colicchio, the chef, food advocate, and founder of Food Policy Action, explained to us today why the call for the elimination of regulations and regulators in the food-safety world would be problematic: "We hope that all candidates will address food safety issues in a way that protects American families. Each year foodborne diseases cause more than 48 million illnesses, 130,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths in America. According to Donald Trump's statements calling for the elimination of the Food and Drug Administration, I think we have to assume that those numbers don't concern the Republican nominee for President."
American food safety regulation has been substantially stepped up and modernized during the Obama administration. In 2010, Congress passed new food safety regulations in response to a rash of deaths due to salmonella, listeria, and other types of food poisoning. Trump seems to have been targeting these developments when he said in the missing information sheet that FDA food safety rules "govern the soil farmers use, farm and food production hygiene, food packaging, food temperatures" and other ways farmers and food companies do business. The missing fact sheet may have been a prelude to a Trump recommendation to roll back food safety standards and leave things up to corporations to govern themselves—as if they would suddenly do so in any sort of meaningful capacity.
Iconic nutritionist and food studies professor Marion Nestle told MUNCHIES, "Rolling back FDA food safety regs is not a good idea. They are working! The food supply is safer now than before we had them."
Iles from the Berkeley Food Institute agrees, but says defending the current status of the FDA simply isn't enough: "Instead of trying to cut back on food safety rules, America needs to strengthen these rules. Millions of Americans continue to suffer from food poisoning each year. In the last few years, Congress and FDA have begun fixing up what had been a weak system. Calling for food safety standards to be abandoned would imperil the health of Americans."
Patrick Baur, a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley specializing in food safety and food systems who works with Iles, adds, "[The] FDA bears the lion's share of the work required to make sure that Americans have safe food, beverages, and medicines. I have never encountered anyone during my research who would argue that consumer safety should not be a national priority. At stake is the health and wellbeing of every American. With over a century worth of experience working to protect American consumers, FDA is really the best positioned agency through which to seek these improvements."
So, what does the seemingly imperiled FDA itself think about Trump's deleted proposal? When we contacted them, a spokesperson apologized and told MUNCHIES, "We'll have to pass."
Even if the FDA won't defend itself, Rance Baker, the Program Administrator for the Entrepreneurial Zone for the National Environmental Health Association, will. "First, I just have to laugh at the concept of eliminating the FDA—to take even one step back would be ludicrous. I'm dumbfounded that somebody would even suggest this. Not only is the FDA protecting the food within our country, for the first time it's highly regulating the food that is coming into this country. I can't imagine why somebody would purposefully lessen the protection of the food we and our children consume."
All we can say is this: If Trump gets his way, he probably should avoid eating pretty much any and all food—at least without a royal taste tester. But maybe he has one of those.
The comments in this article have been edited and condensed for clarity and length.