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Food Safety News

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Publisher’s Platform

I have decided this week that the “Tea Party” movement is “right”–business and government in the U.S.A. are “a bunch of damn socialists”–at least they are when poisoning consumers and investigating outbreaks.

First, full disclosure.  When I am not channeling Rupert Murdoch in my role as publisher here at Food Safety News, I play an ambulance chasing “super lawyer.”  Interestingly, in both roles, accurate, complete, and timely information is the key to either a good story or a good lawsuit–and many times both.

So, what’s my point?  Accurate, complete and timely information is the actual gas that makes the engine of our free market operate.  In my world, where consumers get poisoned by the food they and their families eat, knowing the product and who poisoned you is important, not just so you know who to sue, but also who not to buy from next time–or at least until they stop poisoning people.  That is the free market operating effectively.  With accurate, complete, and timely information comes free choice that matters (versus free choice that is the equivalent of playing Russian roulette).  Knowing who produces safe food allows consumers to “vote” with their dollars, making sure that the producers of unsafe food get voted out.

I am frustrated, however, that business and government seem so intent on keeping information from us. (Think of the scene in a “Few Good Men” where Jack Nicholson character yells “you can’t handle the truth.”) More specifically, I am frustrated that business and government in two recent foodborne illness outbreaks seem so intent in deciding what we need to know thereby putting sugar in our gas tanks and letting the free market engine grind to a halt.

Just over a month ago rumors started swirling in the upper Midwest and beyond that “leafy greens”–specifically romaine lettuce–were tainted with E. coli and Salmonella.  First, it was rumored that the source was a Michigan Mexican-style restaurant, and then it was college food service.  Eventually, an E. coli O145 outbreak was announced that has been linked to Freshway Foods, Andrew Smith and a “Yuma Farm” and thirty-some illnesses in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, New York and Pennsylvania.  

Now, over a month into the recall, the FDA, Freshway, and Andrew Smith are silent as to the name of the “Yuma Farm.”  Do they really not know?  And, if they do not know, then why not?  You must admit letting the public know that “Yuma Farm” is sending us pathogenic E. coli has value.  Perhaps we can decide not to purchase from them again?  Perhaps we can learn why it happened on that farm? Such knowledge becomes the engine for improving safety and, more importantly, letting the public make informed food choices.

So, let’s talk Salmonella and Fresh Express.  We know that Fresh Express recalled their product after a bag of the company’s lettuce product tested positive for Salmonella during retail sampling.  By all accounts, Fresh Express has acted admirably in cooperating with the FDA.  However, Fresh Express has also been linked to several Salmonella illnesses in the upper Midwest that occurred before this recall, and having nothing to do with it.  So, why the “cone of silence” over health departments?  So, why no announcement by authorities, or Fresh Express, that Fresh Express product sickened people?  Did they tell the sick people what product poisoned them?  Why not tell the public?  

Shouldn’t the public have the right to know if food safety industry leader, Fresh Express, is as fallible as the rest of lettuce producers?  Doesn’t the free market require accurate, complete, and timely information to allow consumers to know what they believe is safe for themselves and their families?

It is time for us all to act like good capitalists and turn away from the seduction of socialism, where government decides what the public needs to know, and when.  Yes, it’s hard to tell the truth and to tell people things that are hard and perhaps embarrassing.  But, that is the cost/benefit of living in a free society.  Freedom requires information.  Businesses and government have limited rights to hide information from us–especially when we are being poisoned.

© Food Safety News
  • jmunsell

    The term “Agency Capture” is used to describe a situation in which a government regulatory agency has been captured by the very industry the agency supposedly regulates. As additional disasters occur across a broad spectrum of America, I question whether there is ANY federal agency which has not succumbed to “Agency Capture”. The Wall Street/banking meltdown revealed the consequences of deregulating the banking and investment industries. Our government’s “Hands Off” non-involvement role in the Gulf, while allowing BP to utilize toxic dispersants which are now killing everything in their path, reveals the power wielded by the oil industry. USDA’s deregulation of the big slaughter behemoths has produced what should have been anticipated, which is ongoing outbreaks and recurring recalls. FDA is perfectly comfortable inspecting food plants once every five years, relieving the agency from implementing uncomfortable enforcement actions against noncompliant plants.
    Each industry and the government agency empowered to monitor industry activities enjoy a revolving door arrangement, in which high-ranking officials from both sides take turns working on the other side. This legal arrangement virtually guarantees a seamless insulation of the industry from accountability, including the obstruction of information released to the public. While we could characterize these dalliances as both sides figuratively sleeping together, we know that the oil industry indeed provides sexual favors to government regulators, minimizing necessary government oversight.
    The end result of such relationships is precisely what Bill Marler states, which is that our 24/7 government watchdogs not only turn a blind eye to obvious and ongoing problems, but refuse to release pertinent information to the public, protecting their friends in the industry. These government watchdogs realize that their industry friends will provide the regulators cushy jobs in the industry when the regulators retire from the government.
    Ronald Reagen successfully changed America’s mentality on government regulations, espousing the multiple advantages of small government, and especially, deregulation. We have now gone to the opposite extreme, and are paying the price for empowering transnational corporation to operate in a liberated laissez faire environment, which is now being increasing polluted with petroleum and toxic foods.
    We need a wholesale cleansing of agency lifers across a broad spectrum of government. These bureaucrats currently issue regulations only after consultations with and approval from each industry. This also raises a parallel question, in that industry influence over our executive, legislative and judicial branches have corrupted every segment of Washington DC daily operations. Who contributes more to political campaigns: John Q. Public, or BP, Exxon, Tyson, etc?
    If meaningful changes can only be implemented via a grass roots groundswell of opposition from the Tea Party and other “splinter” groups, the future of our country will be best promoted by joining such groups.
    John Munsell, Manager
    Foundation for Accountability in Regulatory Enforcement (FARE)
    Miles City, MT
    “Force the Source”

  • John Munsell

    The term “Agency Capture” is used to describe a situation in which a government regulatory agency has been captured by the very industry the agency supposedly regulates. As additional disasters occur across a broad spectrum of America, I question whether there is ANY federal agency which has not succumbed to “Agency Capture”. The Wall Street/banking meltdown revealed the consequences of deregulating the banking and investment industries. Our government’s “Hands Off” non-involvement role in the Gulf, while allowing BP to utilize toxic dispersants which are now killing everything in their path, reveals the power wielded by the oil industry. USDA’s deregulation of the big slaughter behemoths has produced what should have been anticipated, which is ongoing outbreaks and recurring recalls. FDA is perfectly comfortable inspecting food plants once every five years, relieving the agency from implementing uncomfortable enforcement actions against noncompliant plants.
    Each industry and the government agency empowered to monitor industry activities enjoy a revolving door arrangement, in which high-ranking officials from both sides take turns working on the other side. This legal arrangement virtually guarantees a seamless insulation of the industry from accountability, including the obstruction of information released to the public. While we could characterize these dalliances as both sides figuratively sleeping together, we know that the oil industry indeed provides sexual favors to government regulators, minimizing necessary government oversight.
    The end result of such relationships is precisely what Bill Marler states, which is that our 24/7 government watchdogs not only turn a blind eye to obvious and ongoing problems, but refuse to release pertinent information to the public, protecting their friends in the industry. These government watchdogs realize that their industry friends will provide the regulators cushy jobs in the industry when the regulators retire from the government.
    Ronald Reagen successfully changed America’s mentality on government regulations, espousing the multiple advantages of small government, and especially, deregulation. We have now gone to the opposite extreme, and are paying the price for empowering transnational corporation to operate in a liberated laissez faire environment, which is now being increasing polluted with petroleum and toxic foods.
    We need a wholesale cleansing of agency lifers across a broad spectrum of government. These bureaucrats currently issue regulations only after consultations with and approval from each industry. This also raises a parallel question, in that industry influence over our executive, legislative and judicial branches have corrupted every segment of Washington DC daily operations. Who contributes more to political campaigns: John Q. Public, or BP, Exxon, Tyson, etc?
    If meaningful changes can only be implemented via a grass roots groundswell of opposition from the Tea Party and other “splinter” groups, the future of our country will be best promoted by joining such groups.
    John Munsell, Manager
    Foundation for Accountability in Regulatory Enforcement (FARE)
    Miles City, MT
    “Force the Source”

  • Prof. Jim O’Reilly

    http://www.fda.gov/downloads/AboutFDA/WhatWeDo/FDATransparencyTaskForce/TransparencyReport/GlossaryofAcronymsandAbbreviations/UCM212110.pdf
    contains at pages 50-53 some interesting suggestions for the responses to Bill’s commentary. FDA will hear many industry comments against the suggestion. If the reader is interested in the topic, I recommend reviewing the FDA report, making comments, and sharing the comments with others. For more background and history, please see vol. 1 ch. 14 of O’Reilly, Federal Information Disclosure 3d Ed. Westgroup.com, and vol. 2 ch. 21-22 of O’Reilly, Food & Drug Administration, 3d Ed., westgroup.com; both books can be reached via the westlaw data base treatise collection.
    Prof. Jim O’Reilly
    Univ. Cincinnati College of Law