"...have a serving of Ptomaine
We've got everything you need
To induce your stomach pain."*
Or so you would think the song goes given the number of food borne illnesses that have surfaced over the last few months. First, it was spinach infested with some rather nasty E. Coli. It killed three and made hundreds sick. That one really didn't bother me. I never really liked Popeye, and I never bough into his fetish for that nasty tasting green leafy stuff. Besides, the tainted spinach was nowhere near the Lone Star State. No harm, no foul.
But then, just a month or so ago, it was tomatoes that had been exposed to Salmonella. Now we're starting to get a little closer to home. While in general, I am not one to chow on a raw tomato, there is the odd occasion where the munchy center of my brain will be satisfied with nothing less. This is starting to take on the earmarks of a serious problem. Maybe there's something rotten in our food supply other than the foods that seem to be infested with nasty "wee beasties" hitching a ride into our alimentary canals. If they just passed through on their way to the first national bank of sewage that would be one thing. However, these malicious microbial malcontents raise a regurgatative ruckus half way between in and out. Worse than that, they can also be downright deadly, as in the case of the killer spinach.
Still, in consideration of the amount of spinach I eat, and the number of tomatoes that pass my lips in an uncooked state, I'm feeling rather safe. This whole thing is really only a concern of those among us rich enough to afford eating good, wholesome rabbit food. Poor saps like me who can only afford to eat food processed to within millimeters of having nutritional value only have to worry about pesky cholesterol and high sugar content...or so I thought.
Then, the coup de grace comes. Just a few days ago, scallions bound for my fast-food Mecca, Toxic Belch...err, Taco Bell wind up carrying another lovely batch of E. Coli. Oh, how can this be? What evil, demented monster would allow the icy tentacles of a bacterium from the intestine of cattle to find a way to hitch a ride on green onions? It's not right! "There is a real problem here," I surmised at long last.
There is a real problem here. It's called deregulation. In the time that DUBYA has been in power, he's been gutting the government from the inside. His tax cuts for the rich, and spending cuts for everyone else have hamstrung just about everything that the government is supposed to do to keep a watch over unscrupulous businesses and corporations. No surprises there, but now the cracks in the system are starting to show.
In the preamble to the constitution, one of the things the constitution is "ordained and established" to do is to "provide for the common defense." It is easy to misconstrue this function as being just about militaristic actions. I would submit that there's a lot more to providing for the common defense than making sure we use only the best depleted Uranium for weapons.
I would submit that insuring the safety of our food supply (and water and air) is very much a part of providing for the common defense. It should come as no surprise that since the government could give two shits about air and water quality when compared to corporate profit, they also don't give a case of the Hershey Squirts about food safety for the same reason, either. In this way, they are failing the people of the United States. I know, no big surprise.
It's also not the first time that this kind of thing has been a problem. Upton Sinclair published a novel called The Jungle in 1906. It was a scathing review of the shocking, revolting, and downright dangerous conditions of the meat packing industry. His novel gave rise to two important federal laws: the Pure Food and Drugs act (1906), and the Meat Inspection Act (1906). These laws in turn gave rise to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). These two governmental offices are there to oversee the safety of the food supply. The FDA also exists to insure that drugs sold in the country are safe and effective. It takes little looking about to realize that both organizations are doing a less than stellar job.
Now some of you might be scratching their heads saying, "but Pappy, you are a Libertarian, and therefore you making any argument about what the government is or isn't doing seems quite out of place." No, not at all. I have no problem with the FDA or USDA doing their jobs. You could say my life depends upon them doing their jobs. They are directly involved with providing for the common defense. That's part of what the government is supposed to do, according to the constitution.
Still others will pipe up and say, "But you are a fan of Ayn Rand. Aren't you supposed to be on the side of big business? Sinclair was a famous socialist. Aren't you being wishy-washy? Are those waffle dimples I see?"
Yes, I am a fan of Ayn Rand. I have been since I read Anthem. However, I believe in the idea of the purity and vitality of the human spirit as it pertains to the individual. I'm not so sold on her love of Laissez Faire capitalism, as it breeds the kinds of problems addressed in The Jungle. A corporation is not an individual, and therefore should not be afforded the same freedom and latitude as an individual. No, I am not being wishy-washy. We are all an amalgam of contradiction. Wisdom doesn't come in just one flavor. Those aren't waffle dimples. They are cellulite dimples!
I am not a die-hard believer that the hand of the market is driven by intelligence. It generally isn't. The hand of Madison Avenue hypnotists drives it. Besides that, left to their own devices via Laissez Faire capitalism, corporations are going to try to get away with getting maximum profits while doing maximum harm.
Such is the case we see now with the awful state of the nation's food supply. By easing regulations on food safety, and by once again placing the fox in charge of the henhouse, we see the horrors that can come from not keeping corporations honest and under scrutiny. Upton Sinclair is rolling in his grave even now!
A mere ten years ago, the USDA did approximately 35,000 food inspections a year. That includes going to the farms, packing plants, and other places along the supply chain to insure a safe food supply. With deregulation and placing the foxes in charge, the number has dropped to 3,400 in the past year. (1)
This is a dire situation. Obviously, the government can't do its job. Instead of policing the food supply, they are attempting to legislate morality. Instead of keeping our air and water clean, they are kowtowing to the whims and desires of criminal corporocrats. Instead of providing for the common defense, they are providing for the thickening of their wallets via lobbyists and other corporate criminals.
I am all for the smallest government we can get when it comes to insuring the freedom of the individual. I am NOT for the smallest government when it comes to basic safety issues such as food, air, and water. If the people in government can't do their jobs as described and delineated by the constitution, what the f*ck are they doing there? If they can't provide for the common defense, they need to go away. That goes for food inspectors, their overseers, congress that allowed relaxation of regulation, and DUBYA.
This is just some food for thought. At least you know this food won't leave you puking in the corner, or running for the toilet before the E. Coli makes you experience explosive anal decompression.
As of 12/13/2006, the cause of the E. Coli outbreak at Taco Bell has been traced to lettuce, not scallions as originally theorized. Be that as it may, the points of the article stand. With the amount of money being cut, the number of inspectors being cut, and the number of actual inspections dropping to ten percent of pre-DUBYA levels, it's clear there is a serious problem with food inspections. How can anyone anywhere claim we are winning a so-called war on terror, when it's clear we can't even win a war against E. Coli when it unintentionally gets into the food supply. Goddess forbid a real terrorist (or group thereof) actually put something seriously virulent into the American food supply. It's just one more failing of DUBYA and his neo-con f*ck head government.
*Appropriate apologies to Guns and Roses.
(1) Countdown with Keith Olbermann, 12/11/2006