I have come to bury Sen. Tom Coburn (R – OK). I mean “bury” metaphorically, not the literal type of burial that happens to about 5,000 Americans a year due to food-borne illness.
Sen. Coburn doesn’t mind if those deaths — and the 76 million related illnesses — continue in America, because an outmoded ideology blinds him to facts.
This is a valuable cautionary tale, because it explains how that ideology creates the pro-salmonella faction in Congress.
See, on the U.S. Senate floor 2 weeks ago, Sen. Coburn said only 10 or 20 Americans a year die from a food-borne illness. This means, to him, that the government doesn’t need the power to recall the tainted food that poisons us because “not once in our history have we had to force anyone to do a recall.” (Both of these things are, of course, 100 percent false.)
New food safety policies that Coburn opposes, which would make us all safer, could come up for a vote tonight. The potential cost of preventing these illnesses — about $300 million — is prohibitively expensive, Coburn says.
This story interests me not just because of the facts, but because of what it says about far-right ideology more broadly. Left unchecked, this anti-everything viewpoint can blind a person to lifesaving benefits of even the simplest and most common-sense policies.
It’s not just that the Centers for Disease Control, a bit more expert in the subject than Coburn, say 72 million Americans get sick a year, and thousands die, due to food-borne illness. It’s the productivity cost.
A study by Georgetown University found that the annual cost of food-borne illness in the United States is about $152 billion per year. Here in North Carolina, the cost is $4.5 billion. If there were an operational definition of cost-effective public investment, food safety would be the one.
The bottom line is this: making sure food is safe benefits everyone. We can do so in a cost-effective manner that saves considerable dollars every year. This is a perfect example of how we can promote the general welfare through wise policy choices — and its far from the only example.
Instead of burying 5,000 Americans per year, can we instead bury the ideology that says government can’t stop corporations from selling us tainted food?