The Department of Health and Human Services has found that most food manufacturers and distributors have no idea where their ingredients came from, or where their products go:
Investigators successfully traced the source for only 5 of the 40 products, the report stated. Three of the traced products were egg cartons whose supply chain included only a farm and a retailer. For a tomato, a bag of ice, a bottle of fruit juice and a bottle of water, investigators were not able to even guess the product’s supply chain. For 31 other products, investigators were able to identify only the likely suppliers.
The FDA famously has no power to recall food. A million pounds of beef could be tainted with a poison guaranteed to kill everybody who ate it, and there’s not a damned thing that anybody could do about it. As we’ve seen with spinach, tomatoes, and peanut butter recently, it’s this system is a terribly dangerous one. The Peanut Corporation of America makes peanut paste and sells it to hundreds of manufacturers, who turn it into thousands of products and put it on the shelves. Without any method of connecting those products to the original peanut paste, we’ve seen 691 people get sick and nine die, and the recalls are still being announced over two months after the Peanut Corporation was fingered as the culprit.
If my neighbor wants to sell me some eggs, cheese, or side of beef, that’s between me and my neighbor, and I don’t care for further regulation there. But it’s time that the industrial food system became properly regulated, by giving the FDA the power to order recalls, requiring that manufacturers maintain records of sourcing and distribution, and providing the funding necessary to enforce those requirements. You put food in you. It’s what keeps you alive, or kills you. This is important. We can take the time to get this right now, or we can wait for something to kill hundreds of people and then hastily enact poorly thought-out regulation. I prefer the former, but I suspect that the latter is how it will play out.
Guess what? The same is true for pharmaceuticals. We need to make sure whatever fixes the FDA covers not just food, but the medicines we rely on as well. Almost all manufacture of pharma ingredients happens outside the U.S. — you can’t get that from your neighbor.
Measures for tracking are one thing. Properly enforcing them with appropriate penalties is another. Monetary fines are fine, but serious jail time is required for egregious offenders. Again, installing procedure and laws is one thing, but they actually need to be enforced properly.
I’d like to see the FDA, EPA, and USDA properly staffed with trained and experienced individuals and these agencies properly funded. Science and oversight are not the enemy. They’re our friends.
How does this relate to the supposedly inspected goods seen by the USDA Inspection Service? Or is there any relation?
Seeing the USDA ‘inspected’ mark on food is not what it used to be, even if it was ever enough or widespread enough. Certainly that process has been broken down over the last ten years if not more.
It seems to me that the meat is allowed to run the label, then they ought to be penalized heavily for conditions or other problems in processing. I am looking at you, Tyson.
Does this mean that you support HR 875?
On the other hand, it would be kind of creepy to live in a world where every chicken, every peanut and every stalk of celery has a unique government id number connecting it to a database that traces its entire history and origin.
The systems I have heard suggested for tracking the origins of all of this food add up to a system that would crush small producers of agricultural products, creating requirements for tracking technology that would put hordes of family farms out of business. Most independent farmers are already pushed to the point where they have to hold another part time job in order to survive. Requiring them to buy new equipment that helps to track every cow and chicken and row of corn would ruin a lot of them.
I feel pretty safe as it stands. Once in a blue moon, some peanut butter or beef or something is tainted and it goes right to the headlines and then we all stop buying whatever it is until they get the problem sorted out. I would support better testing and standards for preventing the spread of prion diseases. Aside from that, I think that increased tracking of domestic agricultural products is a matter of diminishing returns.
691 people got sick from the peanut butter thing and 9 people died. 9 lives. Ok, each of those was a sad loss, but how many billions of dollars should be spent to prevent those deaths? If preventing the deaths of less than a dozen people a year is the goal then that could be accomplished with a lot less money and effort than this. Dig one well in rural Kenya, providing a source of clean water, and the child mortality rate will drop enough to save a dozen kids in that village each year.
You want to save lives, lets go for the low-hanging fruit first.
I think I was pretty clear on this:
“On the other hand, it would be kind of creepy to live in a world where every chicken, every peanut and every stalk of celery has a unique government id number connecting it to a database that traces its entire history and origin. ”
Also creepy? The fact that it would be someone’s job to stamp the chickens with their id numbers. “So, what do you do for a living, Bob?” “Chicken-stamper. Yeeeep…I stamp them chickens every day, I stamp chickens. Stamped 600 today, hoping next week the boss lets me stamp celery. Those chickens can get mighty feisty, what with them not being particular to getting stamped.” (shush. I know it would be automated. That kills the amusement)
Sorry, back to serious discussion…
I don’t see why it would be necessary to track every ear of corn. Tracking things on a shipment level seems like it would provide the same benefit without the difficulty Jackson complains about. We don’t care which specific ear of corn makes people sick, we care where it came from.
I’ll bet this would end up making things MORE efficient. Right now it’s the big players (Philip Morris, Coke, etc) who track every detail and know the age of their ingredients and sources. Imagine if you knew how long ago the spinach your about to eat was picked…competitive advantage vs the unknown.
Here is an example? The solution when one company’s product is tainted? Tell the whole country not to eat any of that food…how does that cost less to that industry?
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