Sunday, August 08, 2004

Tainted Inspection

Back in the days of Jimmy Carter, when deregulation came into fashion, I invited advocates to go eat uninspected hamburgers. By golly, they did. Worse yet, they served uninspected meat in schools and nursing homes. Lately we’ve had several outbreaks of illness and some deaths as a result.

That’s one of many results of the popular conclusion that, as Ronald Reagan liked to put it, Government is the problem, not the solution. The government did have inspectors in packing plants, because the public had demanded them after reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle a hundred years ago. But they were only there to check the plumbing. If they noticed, say, a smudge of manure on a carcass, they could tell a foreman about it. But to actually slow the line down and check it out was a big deal that required appeals and approval from on high.

After many cases of food poisoning and many local scandals and the usual punishment of whistle-blowers, a regulation was drafted to give FDA plant inspectors the right and duty to act on the spot. President Clinton signed it as he was leaving office. But he timed it to go into effect three weeks later. So it was one of the measures that Bush killed when he took power.

Note that Clinton had been in the White House for eight years. Why did it take so long to approve such a simple and obvious reform. Note also that he came from Arkansas, and so does Tyson Foods, the great chicken packer -- which used to love Clinton and now loves Bush even more. Subsidiaries of Tyson figure in some of our sickest food scandals. Their chickens live so tight they can’t spread their wings, and need dangerous amounts of antibiotics to survive. A recent video tape shows men stomping on chickens just for fun -- like our MP’s in Iraq. The moral is, I guess, buy organic, and vote organic.