[Ed. note: 76 million Americans get a foodborne illness every year, driving up health care costs, reducing productivity, and resulting in thousands of deaths — and now we may see an increase due to new contaminants resulting from the BP oil disaster. This topic really deserves more attention.]
The Magic 8 Ball says, “Signs point to yes.”
Approximately 5,000 people a year die from food-related illnesses. But in order for change to happen in a timely fashion the “right people” need to get sick or die. And by the “right people” I mean the children and spouses of the powerful and politically connected. There is a food safety bill languishing in the Senate because the people who have died just didn’t have the right connections, a good narrative and someone who has the power to follow through.
Do I want Sasha and Malia to get sick and die? No. Hell no. Of course not. I also didn’t want 5,000 other Americans to die who aren’t related to the President and who don’t have the money to ensure their food is safe. The sad reality is that in our celebrity-driven media culture not all lives have equal power when it comes to media awareness and political change.
The poor un-famous dead also don’t have a marketing and PR team working for them unlike the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, the American Egg Board, the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board or the National Seafood Marketing Coalition. Right now marketing teams are tasked with pushing consumption of Gulf seafood and they are using the First Family to help.
“But Spocko,” you might exclaim. “Are you trying to use questions about what the President’s children eat to make a point?!” Yes. Right now what the First Family eats is already being used to make political points. Why not a few more so we can save some lives of non-presidential daughters? . . .
What are some of the current points made about what The First Family’s eats?:
- Organic food is good. Michelle Obama’s organic vegetable garden got tons of overwhelmingly positive press, although they did upset the pesticide industry.
- Gulf seafood is safe. When Obama was visiting the Gulf he was pictured eating local seafood. When in D.C. he hosted the New Orleans Saints with a Gulf seafood BBQ.
The Saints even showed the staff how to prepare a recipe from Tackle Zach Strief’s cookbook, — andouille sausage and Gulf shrimp marinated in Creole mustard, bourbon, honey and a little Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce.
The seafood industry wants to get people eating Gulf seafood. (Interestingly the Gulf fishermen want to make sure it is safe with no short cuts.) The seafood sellers love using the photos of the President bolting down seafood. But what they don’t want to discuss is that while the shrimp might be safe for the 180-pound Obama, it might not be as safe for the two small girls. The safety tests are based on a 176-pound adult, not smaller women or tiny children. They also don’t want to tell you that the FDA isn’t testing the shrimp and seafood for the dispersant Corexit or heavy metals contained in the deepwater crude released by the BP oil disaster. They will tell you that the seafood is the "most tested seafood in history", but that’s really not saying much considering how lax the testing was before. We all know that if you don’t look for something you will never find it.
Dr. Gina Solomon, senior scientist of the NRDC and 22 other interested groups, are demanding that the FDA take into account things like body weight, servings of seafood per week and the absence of tests for dispersant chemicals and heavy medals. (Letter link here).
The FDA will probably ignore their demands, just like BP ignored the EPA. Why? Because none of the “right people” have gotten sick or died yet.
Healthy Eating Is a Political Issue
Mrs. Obama has earned praise for making healthy living and eliminating childhood obesity a priority with her “Let’s Move” campaign. So a legitimate question for her is:
Will you be feeding your child seafood from the recently opened fishing grounds in the Gulf of Mexico?
That simple sounding question is a loaded political question encompassing public health, regulatory bodies, commerce and the risks we are willing to take ourselves vs. the risks we do not want our children to take.
Better Safe Than Sorry vs. Get Sick, Then Sue
When I first started writing on the health issues of this oil spill disaster Dr. Kirk Murphy pointed me to a need for an attitude change toward the precautionary principle or as I like to call it the "Better Safe than Sorry principle." vs. the "Get Sick and Sue" principle. It’s something that Andrew Maynard, Jay Ackroyd and I discussed on Virtually Speaking recently.
If you start looking up illnesses and deaths from food related illnesses you often get directed to lawyer’s pages. The financial pressure from consumer lawsuits help, but after years of complaints and lawsuits we still have food safety problems. Foodborne diseases cause 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year.
We also have a media problem. As I’ve read the stories about Gulf Seafood safety I don’t see much change from the standard, "Food Industry Marketing Executives say X, the (captured) regulatory agency agrees with the industry and provides testing that supports industry views. A scientist complainer says Y, but not very forcefully, so the truth lies somewhere in the middle, back to you George."
A Hypothetical Question For Change Policy
What if I had two children of Sasha and Malia’s age and weight who went to the New Orleans Saints BBQ and happened to eat salmonella-infected eggs, E. coli contaminated beef or oil/dispersant tainted seafood? They got cramps, started throwing up and had bloody diarrhea.
One recovered, one died.
If they were the children of some New Orleans Saints big shot there might be finger pointing, lawsuits and maybe the dead daughter would become the "Ryan White" of food-related death.
But they still wouldn’t have the political power to make fundamental changes in the system. Only if this happened to the children of a senator, congressperson or the president could change happen.
And by the way, if this happened to the children of a liberal reporter from the MSM they would not be allowed to report on this topic. Their producers know they would not be fair to the big food corporations, the super citizens whose stock price and brand must be protected by the corporate media. (Ask Oprah what happens when you "disparage" the beef industry.)
What if Sean Hannity’s ten year old Patrick or his seven year old Merri Kelly got sick and died from eating tainted food at this White House Gulf Seafood BBQ?
- Would he use his media machine for change?
- Would he attack the White House and the White House chefs?
Would the headline be, "Obama Fed My Child Tainted Food!"?
Would he attack the FDA for incomplete testing? Would he attack Big Chicken, Big Beef or Big Shrimp?
I’d like to think he would go for the right corporate villain, Hannity is human after all. But would he then:
- start pushing for passage of the Senate food safety bill?
- demand more government regulation?
Or would he start a business for home food testing labs for the rich? I don’t know.
Does this mean that I want Sean Hannity’s children to get sick and die? No. Hell no.
But until one of the children of the powerful and politically connected or someone media savvy dies from food-related illness, 5,000 others will just have to keep dying. The multi-billion dollar food industries will not be swayed by the sickness and death of the wrong people.