Monday, April 27, 2009

New Policy Threatens Food Quality and Safety

I wrote this article for my online journal in early April. Today’s alfalfa sprout recall makes the issue all the more relevant.

[Late in March] the FDA issued a statement warning consumers to avoid all pistachios and “pistachio products.” Setton Farms, the country’s second-largest pistachio facility, is contaminated with four strains of salmonella. Rather than warn the public about foods produced by this particular company, “… authorities said consumers should avoid all pistachio products until more information was available.” (emphasis mine)

Reactionary responses are typical in times of fear, resulting in pleas for new regulations. The pistachio contamination affords totalitarians a new opportunity to erode food quality and safety.

According to an Associated Press article, nonspecific, all-encompassing recalls may become the norm:

"It could take weeks before health officials know exactly which pistachio products may be tainted with salmonella, but they've already issued a sweeping warning to avoid eating the nuts or foods containing them.

The move appears to indicate a shift in how the government handles food safety issues — from waiting until contaminated foods surface one-by-one and risking that more people fall ill to jumping on the problem right away, even if the message is vague."

Indeed, the FDA’s response to today’s alfalfa contamination is sweeping and reactionary. The FDA declared all alfalfa suspect until proven otherwise. “FDA will work with the alfalfa sprout industry to help identify which seeds and alfalfa sprouts are not connected with this contamination…” (emphasis mine)

This obtuse reaction is less about protecting public safety than it is about protecting the government-corporate regime. If regulators shut down an entire segment of the food industry rather than address only the affected parties, then consumers—
a) might not find out that contamination issues are most frequent among corporations that have secured government favors, and
b) might not realize that the existence of government regulatory agencies is a primary cause of large-scale outbreaks.

For example, Peanut Corporation of America’s disastrous peanut contamination resulted from poor standards that can only arise from collusion between state and industry. PCA’s owner, Stewart Parnell, was influential in drafting food safety standards as a member of the USDA Peanut Standards Board. His company was awarded contracts with government run free school lunch programs in California, Minnesota, and Idaho. PCA knowingly shipped contaminated peanut butter to its customers 12 times since 2007. (In fitting irony, the company also sold salmonella-tainted peanut butter to FEMA for disaster relief kits in Kentucky and Arkansas.) PCA needed not concern itself with maintaining clean facilities; as a government contractor, it was guaranteed a source of income regardless of its performance.

In a free market, companies with such lax quality control and sanitation would not survive for long. They would have to produce high quality food or risk being out-competed by companies offering superior goods. Contrast this with the increasingly fascist regime, in which a peanut company owner writes federal standards for his own industry, uses his influence to curry political favor, and, when his product sickens hundreds of people, declares that he is free from culpability since his facilities meet federal guidelines. Existence of government agencies necessarily undermines food quality.

Despite their best public relations efforts, PCA finally declared bankruptcy in February 2009. Perhaps to prevent any more of their favorite gangsters from going out of business, regulators will now recall entire crops across-the-board when a single company’s products are contaminated. Note that it is the food conglomerates—those frequently involved in product recalls—that are lobbying for greater government oversight. For example,

"Kellogg Company CEO David Mackay wants food safety placed under a new leader in the Health and Human Services department. He also called for new requirements that all food companies have written safety plans, annual federal inspections of facilities that make high-risk foods, and other reforms."

One blogger wrote, “Kellogg’s is a multi-billion dollar company asking for a government handout to do what Kellogg’s should be doing – selling a safe product.” Indeed.

But taxpayer funded, corporate controlled federal regulatory agencies are exactly what fascists want. Agribusinesses lobby for legislation to shut down the entire sector when their particular products are contaminated—effectively keeping themselves in business while forcing their competitors to suffer for their negligence. It is easier to force out the few remaining quality producers than to upgrade their own operating procedures. The government gets more money, gets to “create jobs” by hiring more regulators, and gets to look like heroes protecting the public good. This perfect pairing is a win-win scenario for both the corporations and the state. Who loses? Smaller producers who are prohibited from showcasing their superior products. People who pay taxes. People who eat food.

State agencies such as the FDA and USDA are threatening access to quality food. As regulations increase, expect a cycle of more recalls, more regulations, more recalls, and potential food shortages. Do what you can to prepare.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I would just like to add that eating a well balanced diet is the best way to protect against the eneptitude of the govt. Cilantro has a natural component that kills salmonella...