Someone we learned much from about government taught us that, for better or for worse, there are certain periods of time when things happen in near silence.   At the end of every year, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s, many decisions without much notice or attention.  This occurs in every statehouse, courthouse, and city hall across the land.

The final days of every Presidency is also such a time.   For all that is written about "lame ducks," the power of the Presidency is every much as complete in its last moment as its first.  In other words, the outgoing administration is not less powerful just because Congress and the media are distracted by the campaign.

The issue of timing came to our mind as soon as we heard of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s long awaited decision to allow ionizing radiation for the treatment of fresh iceberg lettuce and fresh spinach.

Radiation would be used "for control of food-borne pathogens" and "extension of shelf life."

A petition for voluntary use of ionizing radiation of many foods was presented to FDA in the final days of the Clinton Administration by the Grocery Manufacturers Association. With no action on it after six years, the association amended their petition to focus on fresh lettuce and spinach.

Both lettuce and spinach were subjects of E. coli 0157:H7 outbreaks at the time the petition was amended, illustrating the need for a "kill step" for pathogens.

The trouble with making big policy decisions at these moments when nobody is looking is that nobody is vested in the outcome.

"I do not know anyone clamoring for it." said Scott Horsfall of California’s Leafy Green Marketing Agreement.   "There has to be consumer acceptance. We do not know how big a hurdle that might be. The science needs to be looked at and the cost, too."

While industry has its doubts and reservations, consumer groups are downright hostile to radiation of food with one activist calling it an "expensive gimmick."

Gimmick or not, its an FDA final rule.  One that "does not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment."  In early 2009, we will find out just want its effect on the political environment will be when the new President and new Congress begin going through their "in" baskets.

San Francisco Chronicle has good story here