What happens if FDA is a product of budget cuts?

The sheer stupidity of the across-the-board budget cuts mandated by sequestration is becoming obvious in many ways. Four-year-olds entering lotteries to see if they can stay in Head Start programs. Chemo patients being turned away for lack of funding at . Not so visible yet are what the cuts are doing to essential federal regulatory agencies.

Yes, the results of the cuts made in the Federal Aviation Authority budget were so immediately painful that Congress quickly passed a short-term fix. But we have not yet seen too many consequences of cuts in other regulatory agency budgets, cuts that are going to result in far worse outcomes than waiting in long lines at airports while are delayed.

Let’s get two things straight. Nobody is for overregulation. One of the major priorities of anyone running a regulatory agency is to root out inefficiencies, making sure the process is fair and doesn’t impose unnecessary burdens on the industry being regulated. Second, we could eliminate every single federal regulatory agency and the resulting savings would hardly make a dent in the federal budget. The answers to solving our long-term budget problems are clearly increased revenues, overhauling Defense Department priorities, and entitlement reform.

I could pick virtually any regulatory agency and project dire outcomes caused by sequestration cuts, which will be ongoing under present law. What happens to the integrity of our financial markets when the SEC can no longer police them effectively? How many of our rivers will be devastated by polluters if the EPA can no longer enforce environmental laws?

But let’s focus on just one agency –the Food and Drug Administration –and its mission to enforce food purity laws. What happens if it no longer has the capability to do that?

In a column I wrote last year, I mentioned a business executive who was a fellow panelist on a seminar about the environment. He proclaimed that the problem in America was too much regulation, a common mantra in the U.S. business community. “Not like China,” he said, “where it is easy to manufacture without government interference.”

I remembered that guy when I recently read the Ministry of Public Security in China’s report that since 2009, some of its meat processors were mixing “rat, fox and mink meat and selling it as lamb rolls.” Wow. In Europe, there was a recent scandal about horse meat being substituted for lamb, but –rat meat?

Earlier this year, 6,000 dead pigs were found floating in a Shanghai river that is a major source of its drinking water. A few months ago The New York Times reported on the manufacturing process followed by 16 Chinese companies selling preserved fruit: “It made the meat-packing methods described by Upton Sinclair in ‘The Jungle’ a century ago pale by comparison.”

Incidents like these are just the tip of a very nasty iceberg. Mao Shoulong, a professor of public policy at Renmin University in Beijing, said earlier this month, “Chinese food production has become larger scale and more technological, but the problems emerging also involve using more sophisticated technology to beat regulators and cheat consumers.”

Yes, it is easier to “do business” in places where there is little or no regulation. But there has been a gigantic backlash against their government’s regulatory policies among the Chinese people. A 2012 poll conducted by Ipsos, an international research company, revealed that more than 60 percent of Chinese consumers are concerned about food safety issues. As a result, those who can afford it are turning toward imported food. What is it like to live in a country where most people don’t trust the safety of their food supply?

I hope we will never know the answer to that question. But we didn’t get to where we are as a country with a safe food supply by dumb luck. Before the public outrage a century ago caused by Sinclair’s book and other muckraking journalism, we weren’t in any better shape than China is today. It took years to establish the aggressive regulatory program we now take for granted.

We might not be able to take it for granted much longer. We have to address our long-term deficit and debt problems. But sequestration is the dumbest of all ways to do it. We must not risk destroying the regulatory framework that has contributed so much to our success as a nation.

Ted Kaufman is a former U.S. senator from Delaware.