The Labor Department announced Friday that U.S. employers slashed 598,000 from their payrolls in January. That's the largest single-month reduction in 35 years. The decline pushed the unemployment rate to 7.6 percent… its highest level since 1992.
President Obama cited the rapidly deteriorating labor picture as justification for his proposed economic stimulus package that now has ballooned to more than $935 billion.
While the languishing U.S. economy clearly is the top priority in Washington, lawmakers also found time this week to consider food safety reforms.
President Obama: "At bare minimum we should count on our government keeping our kids safe when they eat peanut butter."
To the U.S. Senate…
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa: "Why does it take 3 months to figure out there is a problem?"
FDA's role in the nation's latest food safety outbreak has been criticized.
Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Nebraska: "There are some clear lapses in regulatory control here. We need to tighten this issue up."
The widespread condemnation stems from a salmonella outbreak in peanut products responsible for killing 8 individuals and sickening more than 500. Health officials traced the salmonella poisoning to a Georgia peanut processor, Peanut Corp. of America.
The FDA learned only weeks ago that the Peanut Corp. of America received a series of private tests as late as 2007 showing salmonella in their products from the Georgia plant but later shipped the items after obtaining negative test results.
Gabrielle Meunier, South Burlington, Vt.: "It was horrible and he only ate a couple crackers with this peanut butter. My son almost died because of this."
Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vermont: "I think we ought to throw these people in jail. It's an outrage. People like this don't react to fines because they see that as the cost of business. But if you threaten jail time then maybe somebody thinks differently."
Members of the Senate Agriculture Committee held hearings this week in Washington and questioned the practices of FDA's voluntary recall structure.
Steven Sundloff, FDA: "I think for the most part our voluntary policy is working. So far, every company has complied with our voluntary procedure."
Despite a pledge of swift action from federal health officials, some lawmakers are penning legislative overhauls of food safety. In the wake of the peanut recall, Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro introduced a bill to strip FDA of its food safety authority and set up a new regulatory division within the Department of Health and Human Services.
President Obama has not endorsed DeLauro's proposal but did call for a complete review of FDA operations.