Unapologetic progressive. Fearless activist. Plucky liberal.

Posts tagged ‘food safety’

The dangers of deregulation

George Lakoff writes in his book “The Political Mind”:

“The primary mission of corporations is to maximize profits for their stockholders and executives, not to carry out the moral mission of protecting and empowering citizens. They are accountable to their stockholders, not to the public. It is inevitable that, when conflicts between the public good and corporate profits arise, the public good suffers.”

This is my basic argument against deregulation. Corporations are not in business to watch over the public. They are in business to make money, and they will cut corners, fire workers and do whatever else they need to in order to generate profits.

A perfect case in point is the recent near collapse of Wall Street. No less a person than former Secretary of Treasury Henry Paulson criticized the excesses of securities companies that sold products so complicated no one knew exactly where the money was. The chairman of the SEC admitted a lack of oversight helped contribute to the worst economic slowdown since the Great Depression.

Even more recently, 11 workers were killed and millions of gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana. The Wall Street Journal found that

The small U.S. agency that oversees offshore drilling doesn’t write or implement most safety regulations, having gradually shifted such responsibilities to the oil industry itself for more than a decade.

That’s like giving a thief the key to a bank and saying, “Here. Let us know if you notice anything missing.” Seriously? Oil companies are supposed to regulate themselves? How would you like it if restaurants were allowed to let rodents and insects run free in their kitchens? Or not clean plates and utensils between customers? Or leave food sitting out a room temperature all day? Instead, we have inspectors who make sure places that sell food follow proper health regulations. If they find critical violations, the restaurants must clean up their act or risk being shut down. If the government can do that for restaurants, some of which serve a relatively small percentage of the population, why can’t it monitor operations such as oil companies, which have the opportunity to affect millions of people if something goes wrong?

Speaking of the food industry, even though restaurants are regularly inspected, food isn’t necessarily examined before it enters the supply chain. This often leads to disastrous consequences for the public. Earlier this year, two farms recalled 550 million eggs in a salmonella outbreak that sickened 1,500 people. A writer reports:

The recall by two Iowa egg farms exposed gaps in government oversight that had long frustrated consumer advocates. As a result of the outbreak, the Food and Drug Administration, which is primarily responsible for egg safety but has a limited force of inspectors, plans to train Agriculture Department personnel in how to catch potential problems at egg farms and to conduct inspections.

Peanut butter was also subject to recall after salmonella contamination. Three people died in an E. coli outbreak in 2006 after eating spinach that was linked to a 50-acre farm. In 2002, “foods contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes bacteria have killed 7 people, sickened 46 and caused three miscarriages,” according to the New York Times. You know what that one was linked to? “Ready-to-eat” deli meat, which isn’t really ready to eat: “Dr. Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, said tests showed that most ready-to-eat meats provide fertile ground for listeria: sliced ham, bologna, chicken, turkey, hot dogs, bratwurst.”

According to an editorial in the Sun-Sentinel, food regulations haven’t been updated in more than 70 years. SB 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, would strengthen food safety standards. The bill would also give the FDA the power to mandate a recall, which doesn’t have at the moment. Right now the bill is being held up in the Senate on an unrelated matter, but hopefully it will be voted on after the Thanksgiving holiday–which centers around food. This is the perfect opportunity to write your legislators to let them know you support such regulation.

Humans aren’t the only ones affected by a lack of regulation and oversight. Pet owners learned in 2007, to their dismay, that contaminated food could kill their furry friends. Earlier this year, McDonald’s recalled millions of “Shrek” glasses after tests showed they contained high levels of the toxic chemical cadmium. It has no constructive purpose in the human body and is dangerous even in small amounts. An advisory panel recently said the amounts of cadmium in the glasses were not dangerous—because they recently raised the “acceptable daily intake” by three times its previous number. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is also not mandating a maximum limit on cadmium but is instead relying on voluntary compliance by companies that use cadmium in manufacturing. Well. I feel so much safer, don’t you?

If this were just an issue of companies making money, I wouldn’t have such a problem with it. I don’t, in general, oppose corporations posting profits. But when people’s lives are at stake? Sometimes it’s their financial lives, as in the case with Wall Street, but all too often it’s their physical lives. How can we insist on anything less than strict standards when it could be our loved ones who eat that tainted salad? Our kids who pick up a bracelet laced with cadmium? Deregulation might be great for CEOs, but it’s bad news for almost everyone else.