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Letter From the Editor: Sometimes you get what you need

Opinion

We all do our share of bloviating. In thinking back on the past eight years, I’ve certainly done my share. Usually we do it without any expectation that anyone will act on our suggestions because that happens so rarely.

Let me give you a few examples. After watching the federal budget process for most of the past decade, I’ve noticed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service gets essentially the same amount of money every year. It’s about 1 percent of USDA’s budget, or about $1 billion a year.

Shaka sign thumbs up in Hawaii

The shaka sign used in Hawaii is somewhat similar to a thumbs-up on the mainland. (Photo illustration)

So I suggested Congress get a little wild and send over an extra $250 million to Al Almanza’s shop, with a challenge for FSIS to use the extra bucks for innovations in food safety. Nobody called me back about it. Nothing changed.

Somewhat earlier, I suggested that all food safety inspections be paid for with industry fees and not with taxpayers’ money. This comes from my experience in building and development, where those industries pay the fees and not the taxpayers. I fully understand that, in both instances, it’s the consumer who actually pays since those costs are typically folded into prices, whether for food or housing.

But there are advantages. Change can occur faster when an industry is not taxpayer- and politician-dependent. Has anyone taken me seriously about this well-thought-out suggestion? No. However, consumer and industry representatives have both let me know, nicely, that I am totally daft.

That may be true.

Those more skilled than I in advancing policy ideas have better luck, but it still takes time. Our publisher, Bill Marler, bloviates with the best of them, but he also has advanced some of the big ideas in food safety in the past 20-plus years.

For example, he first started the petition in 2009 to FSIS on “declaring all enterohemorrhagic Shiga toxin-producing serotypes of Escherichia coli (E. coli) (STECs), including non-0157:H7 serotypes, to be adulterants within the meaning of the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA).” It took about four years to get the agency to agree.

Usually things do not happen anywhere near that fast, so consider my surprise when I saw this:

Aug. 7 – The Honolulu Star-Advertiser publishes a guest opinion by Marler. He makes the case for the immediate vaccination of all food service workers in Hawaii in light of the unsolved Hepatitis A outbreak sweeping the island of Oahu.

Aug. 9 – The Hawaii Restaurant Association (HRA) and the Hawaii Medical Assurance Association (HMAA) announce a partnership to “ensure all restaurant employees can get vaccinated in light of an ongoing hepatitis A outbreak.”

Remember the chorus from that old Rolling Stones song?

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need.”

Truth be told, this was not one of Bill’s new ideas. He makes it every time there is a Hep A outbreak. Almost always, however, it’s opposed by the local restaurant association. It’s also oriented toward preventing the area’s next Hep A outbreak, although usually too late to help limit the current one.

The HRA executive director, Gregg Fraser, is the change agent in this story.

“If I was a restaurant operator at this point, and I have been,” Fraser said. “I’ve been a manager, I’ve been an owner, and in talking to my staff, I would say what would happen if our restaurant ended up on the news tonight or tomorrow? It would greatly impact not only the income of the restaurant, but your personal income, so we want to do what we can to avoid that.”

The HRA-HMAA partnership permits any business — not just restaurants — to get an on-site vaccination clinic. HMAA covers 100 percent of the cost, which runs from $95 to $100 apiece.

Not a bad investment when you consider that a single adult case of Hep A can incur almost $2,500 in medical costs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

douglasmacarthur_210x230Hawaii’s ongoing Hepatitis A outbreak grew by 33 cases between Aug. 3 and Aug. 10 and now stands at 168 illnesses. So who knows? An aggressive vaccination program might well impact the current reality, especially on Oahu.

It also should be known that, after spending time in the islands to meet with some of those who were sickened, Marler was off to New Zealand and Australia for food safety talks.

I am now wondering if he will return from his Pacific campaign with a pair of those sunglasses, a big hat and a corncob pipe. Still, a win is a win.

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