Salmonella cop

"Salmonella cop" Continued...

Issue: "The schools that Arne built," April 11, 2009

A drug that intentionally causes abortions, FDA-approved RU-486, has Stupak's disapproval also, not only because "it's aborting a child," he said, but also because of the safety concerns for mothers taking the pill. Stupak says his hands are tied-he has tried to hold a congressional hearing on RU-486 but has been shut down because the drug is too controversial.

Joshua Sharfstein, Obama's newly appointed No. 2 at the FDA, also may challenge Stupak's pro-life stands. While working as a staff member to Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., Sharfstein was a vocal critic of the Bush administration's pro-life policies: "When you have money going to programs with no basis of evidence-basically just an extension of ideology-that's not good for public health."

Stupak has voted with Democrats over 90 percent of the time during this session of Congress, including on the stimulus package. But he voted against his party's recent mortgage restructuring bill. And he is an outright opponent of embryonic stem-cell research and disputes the split between "science" and "dogma" that Obama and many Democrats put forth. "The Democratic party-it missed the boat on this," he said, referring to "life issues."

Along with Republicans and other Democrats, he signed a letter this year pushing the Democratic leadership to keep legislation that prevents federal funding for domestic abortions. And he said if the pro-abortion Kathleen Sebelius, Health and Human Services secretary-to-be, tries to change congressional laws on late-term abortions, "she'll get a battle."

Other legislation sponsored by conservatives to limit research to certain stem-cell lines could hit Congress before Easter. While more Democrats in Congress now consider themselves pro-life, Stupak has few colleagues who oppose embryonic stem-cell research. Many face tough reelections, and stem-cell research, embryonic or not, is supported by most Americans. "You know, they don't want a Michael J. Fox commercial to run in their district," Stupak said. "They still see it as science. 'Just as long as they don't clone people.' Well, where do you draw that line?"

With values and a district that tends conservative, why not be a Republican? Stupak said he's less business-oriented than Republicans are, and he comes from a family of Democrats. His grandmother, though, was a Republican and developed his sense that too much government in people's lives is a bad thing.

He hasn't voted as much of a fiscal conservative-supporting the stimulus and his own earmarks in the vastly increased federal budget-but he has shown that he is willing on certain life issues to buck Democratic leadership. And he's been willing to talk about food and drug safety for years before enough recalls happened to drive his point home. In his office, I read him the headline from the satirical newspaper The Onion: "FDA Approves Salmonella." He didn't laugh, but said, "That's for sure."

Food safety slippage

76 million Americans suffer from food-borne illnesses each year, and 5,000 of those cases result in death, according to the CDC:

2009: Salmonella-laced peanut products sicken at least 700 and result in nine deaths.

2008: The FDA recalls Mexican-grown tomatoes and jalapenos tied to a salmonella outbreak that sickened more than 1,200.

2008: The FDA recalls more than 143 million pounds of beef from a California slaughterhouse on reports that "downer" cattle entered the food supply. There are no reports of illnesses.

2007: Pet food ingredients imported from China cause the deaths of hundreds of cats and dogs, resulting in a massive recall of pet food.

2006: Spinach contaminated with E. coli in California sparks a recall that affects more than $86 million in crops. More than 200 illnesses and three deaths are reported.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD Magazine from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emlybelz.


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