Nothing New

The feds, it seems, are slowly beginning to awaken to the fact that airplanes and marathons might be passe as targets for terrorism, though it’d be silly to expect the TSA gropers to quit groping anytime soon. Still, there’s a growing degree of unease emergent amid the bureaucratic lethargy:

Since September 11th, 2001, the US has been understandably obsessed with preventing another type of terrorist attack. But what we may have failed to realize is that while the government is shelling out $16 billion a year on anti-terrorism efforts, they’ve allocated a paltry $1 billion to secure our food supply. To put this in some perspective: An estimated 36,000 Americans have died of food-borne pathogens since 2001, compared to 323 deaths as a result of terrorist activities. In 2004, when (then) Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson resigned from his position, he expressed concern that the United States wasn’t doing nearly enough to protect our food.

It’s not as though we’ve never seen it; here in northern Oregon, in fact, the Rajneeshies poisoned a whole lot of people (although failing to achieve their goal of mass deaths) by growing cultures of e.coli and salmonella at “Rancho Rajneesh” and then salting salad bars at restaurants with their cultures. Around 800 people got sick as a result, but it took over a year for it to be definitively pinned on the peace-loving religious nuts. Yes, those were memorable times, back in the days when they were flooding into Portland and Wasco County with their red beads, red clothes, and attitude.  Then there was the time that they hid in a parking garage and tried to murder the federal lawyer charged with prosecuting them for the poisonings. Good times, good times.

Yes, the early 1980’s were really interesting around here. And even more interesting is that nothing’s really changed as far as our food supplies go. Of course, much of the inertia’s pretty understandable; when a mass illness occurs, the first order of business is to save lives, help victims recover, and help the affected economy recover. How or who tends to be a lot lower on the list. That’s slowly beginning to change.

And it’s likely why the FDA, much to the consternation of brewers, distillers, and farmers, proposed to implement a new regulation governing the disposal of spent grain. Beer brewers and spirits distillers end up with tons of grain at the end of their respective production cycles, and for just about ever, they’ve got rid of it by hauling it to farms. At $30 a ton, it’s cheap grits for the cows, saving the farmers money. The breweries and distillers don’t make any cash, but they don’t have to pay to send it off to a landfill, so it’s sort of a break-even thing for them.

FDA’s suddenly all concerned about potential contamination getting into the moo supply from spent grain, which basically ignores the fact that since both brewing and distilling require temperatures of 170 degrees or more, pathogens can’t survive. In the face of opposition from producers, farmers, and congress-critters, FDA’s decided to reexamine the issue, and may allow producers an exemption from standard feed regulations – meaning that essentially they’d agree to the status quo. There’s never been an issue yet, and it’s kind of hard to infect a silo of spent grain with pathogens.

But hey, the dust-up at least shows that FDA’s taking food supplies a bit more seriously.

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About maxredlines

experience: biology, zoology, psychology. authored/co-authored papers appearing in peer-reviewed scientific journals, as well as numerous professional proceedings. authored articles appearing in computer-oriented publications. featured in publications ranging from books to New Yorker magazine to television.
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2 Responses to Nothing New

  1. I’m sorry but as a farmer I have to disagree with the idea that the FDA cares more about food safety. I suspect food safety is just a term used to classify rules. The goal is regulation for the sake of regulation. The bureaucracy is unable to make any value judgements as to any effectiveness of rules. Instead they just add rules for the purpose of, increasing the number of bureaucrats under you to raise your status, increased power for the agency, because they are evil, because they like to exert their influence on other people, because they can, revenue from fines, all sorts of reasons other than food safety…

    • maxredlines says:

      I tend to agree with your view that the FDA isn’t really all that interested in food safety; the role of all governmental agencies appears to be dedicated to accruing additional power and financing.

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