Institute Calls for USDA to Truly Reinvent Itself in Wake of Strawberry Fiasco

WASHINGTON, DC April 2, 1997– As thousands of public school students prepare to get hepatitis vaccines due to contaminated school lunch strawberry desserts distributed by the United States Department of Agriculture, the Competitive Enterprise Institute called for Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman to resign and for his agency to accept full tort liability for this episode.

CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman stated: “With all these claims of government reinventing itself, let's see USDA take the first step towards real reform- namely, to pay for its mistakes in the same manner as any private company. If a private firm had distributed a product with even a fraction of the risk posed by USDA's fruit cups, its CEO would be out of a job and its lawyers would be staring at a mountain of lawsuits by this time, not to mention federal investigators. Why won't USDA put itself in the same position?”

CEI called on the agency to do the following:

  • declare that it will accept liability for both compensatory and punitive damages, just as any private company would be liable. The agency should not allow sovereign immunity or limitations in the Federal Tory Claims Act to stand in the way of this;

  • declare that it will pay all judgments out of its own budget, rather than having the U.S. Treasury foot the bill, just as private companies pay for judgments with their own funds. In this way, the agency would have a real incentive to learn from this mistake;

  • if current law bars USDA from accepting responsibility in this manner, then USDA should call on Congress for the necessary changes.

    CEI called on USDA Secretary Dan Glickman to resign, in order to demonstrate his acceptance of responsibility for the fiasco.

    CEI agricultural analyst Jonathan Tolman stated: “The best way to learn from your mistakes is to have to pay for them. If USDA is serious about reinventing itself, it should start by taking this small but essential step.”

  • CEI is a nonprofit, free-market advocacy organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. For more information, call Kevin Bertram at (202) 331-1010 or e-mail him at [email protected].