WASHINGTON — The Trump campaign pitched rolling back food safety regulations in a fact sheet, arguing they are burdensome to farmers and “overkill.” But the campaign later deleted the proposal from its website and offered no explanation.
After sending out the fact sheet Thursday, the campaign issued a new release that did not include the food safety language. The fact sheet was sent out to supplement a speech the billionaire businessman gave to the New York Economic Club that touted fewer regulations but did not specifically mention food safety.
In the original fact sheet, the campaign said that Trump would eliminate several regulations, including the “food police” at the Food and Drug Administration. The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the food safety proposal or why it was deleted.
The handout said the 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. It also criticizes increased inspections of food manufacturing facilities as “inspection overkill.”
The description matches new food safety regulations passed by Congress in 2010 in response to an outbreak of salmonella linked to a Georgia peanut company that killed nine and sickened more than 700 people in 46 states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 48 million people — or 1 in 6 in the United States — are sickened each year from foodborne diseases, and an estimated 3,000 people die.
The final food safety rules for produce issued last year and supported by the food industry require farmers to test irrigation water quality, regularly train workers on the best health and hygiene practices and monitor wildlife that may intrude on growing fields, among other measures. The rules are designed to focus on the riskiest foods.
The idea is to put more focus on prevention in a system that for decades has been primarily reactive to outbreaks after they sicken or kill people. In addition to the peanut outbreak, a 2011 outbreak of listeria linked to cantaloupes killed 33 people. Other large scale outbreaks in fresh spinach, cucumbers and eggs have sickened hundreds.
Last year, an outbreak of listeria linked to Blue Bell ice cream was linked to three deaths. FDA inspectors found many violations at a company plant, including dirty equipment, inadequate food storage, food held at improper temperatures and employees not washing hands appropriately.
Michael Taylor, the former FDA deputy commissioner for foods who led the effort to put the rules in place, says it is one area of agreement in the country, since both the food industry and consumers want safe food.
“Eliminating FDA’s food safety role would make more consumers sick, destroy consumer confidence at home, and damage American competitiveness in global food markets,” he says.
The language in the Trump campaign fact sheet mirrors, almost word for word, parts of a May report from The Heritage Foundation that criticizes increased regulation under President Barack Obama. That report said the FDA rules cast an “exceedingly broad regulatory net.”
While some Republicans in Congress have made similar arguments about overly burdensome regulations, the FDA worked to tweak the rules to appease farmers and companies that voiced concern about the rules. Since then, congressional opposition has died down and the Republican House and Senate have given the FDA an increased amount of money to put the rules in place.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican who has been Trump’s biggest supporter in the Senate, said on Thursday that he hadn’t yet seen the nominee’s proposal on food safety, but he said farmers feel like there are too many federal rules and all regulation needs to be evaluated.
“In Washington, if you propose to pull back any regulation that has a good title, like food safety, then somebody says you want to poison the American people, and so forth,” Sessions said. “But if it can be established that they are not really beneficial, oftentimes the regulations can actually make things more unsafe.”
Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, also said she had not seen the proposal, but criticized the idea of rolling back the rules.
“I think the public certainly wants basic food safety standards,” she said.
Despite the campaign’s apparent desire to roll back the standards, Trump himself has expressed a personal interest in the topic. Trump is a self-professed germaphobe who prefers eating at fast-food restaurants because he believes they have higher food safety standards.
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.