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Wednesday, April 25, 2007
(10:25 AM) | Stephen:
Melamine And Governmental Philosophy

The problem of melamine poisoning in our food supply just keeps growing. The FDA is starting an investigation into it, looking at plant-based protein sources for both livestock and direct human consumption. As usual, litbrit has the latest, so be sure to visit her site to read up on it.

I, however, want to take this in a bit of a different direction. This ongoing problem highlights, again, how the basic Democratic attitude toward government is the most sensible. Contrary to caricatures coming out of Grover Norquist's fevered imagination, the Democratic Party has no real interest in a "nanny state" or in pushing the federal and state governments into the intimate details of everyone's lives.

If you've been paying attention, then you must realize that it's the Republicans who long for the nanny state, who set up the government as the arbiter of your morality for you. The government will tell you when and with whom you will have a relationship and the type of values - that is to say, fundamentalist Christian theology - your children will be taught in school.

But that aside, if the FDA did not exist, there would be no recourse for us in this situation. If the FDA did not exist, we never would have found out about the problem in the first place, for it was only the threat of legal consequences that forced Menu Foods, first, and now the many other pet-food companies and as we're finding out, pork suppliers to admit that this poison is present in the food.

But what about the Magic Market Pixie Dust? Certainly the awesome power of the market could have done the same? Well, no. Menu Foods supplied gluten to dozens of supposedly competing pet food brands. So one could switch from brand to brand and still make one's pets sick and watch them die. After an incredibly long process, the consumers who are distributed all over the USA would have someday recognized that all these brands had the same problem, and after another long process those brands would have felt a financial pinch large enough to change their practices. How many pets should die in the process, how much money should we, as consumers, have to spend in order to find that stuff out?

Now that melamine is known to be in the human food supply, we need to ask ourselves if a similarly long and clunky process is a desirable way to deal with these things. If we still lived in a society where I got my meat from Rancher Bob and my grain from Farmer John, and if everyone came to Farmer Stephen for their vegetables, then there wouldn't be a need for something like the FDA. If I found that Farmer Bob was poisoning my meat in because the compound he was using made his cows bigger or the meat redder, then I could deal with it directly.

But do any of you actually know where the meat in your grocery store comes from? If you read food labels, have you been mistakenly assuming that the corn starch and wheat gluten that increasingly finds their way into ingredient lists come from Kansas wheatfields or Iowa cornfields? Our food is becoming less and less like actual, you know, "food" and more like conglomerations of various chemicals and modified food components that are artificially shaped and flavored to resemble the real thing that we used to find in our grocery stores.

The huge "food" companies do this because it makes them more money. Removing as many naturally occurring characteristics as possible makes for a uniform product, so that consumers can get the same thing no matter where they are. And one hardly needs to assume malevolence on their part to see how decisions that harm consumers can be justified in the name of profit. It's very easy for people to downplay the risks, especially if other people are the ones who bear them.

The huge "food" companies are able to do this because of years of Republican rule over our government. This is the direct result of the GOP's blind faith in Magic Market Pixie Dust, the direct result of valuing corporate profits over people. Bush and his rubber-stamp Congress spent almost 6 years undoing every regulation they could get their hands on. They've placed loyal political appointees in oversight positions, industry flacks and hacks in regulatory positions, and defunded important government agencies tasked with the very type of oversight whose lack has allowed our pet and human food supplies to be poisoned.

To at least the modern GOP "personal responsibility" means that you're personally responsible for someone else's mistakes, incompetence and criminal activity. Remember that the next time Grover Norquist or some other faux-libertarian is bloviating on TV or in an opinion column about the need to shrink the federal government.

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