Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Government agencies do work for all of us

At the beginning of this country until even just 50 years ago, people knew where everything came from that they ate. The corn on the table in mid summer was from the farmer next door. The turkey at Thanksgiving was from the common woods on the outskirts of town where everyone hunted. The bread, if not made by the family, came from the local baker. He got the flour from the mill. The mill owner purchased (or traded) the wheat from the farmer across the street. Everything we ate came from just a few miles away. The food was fresh and not highly processed.

Everyone knew the wheat farmer, they knew the mill owner and they know the baker. All of them went to the same pub, square danced on Saturday nights and went to church on Sunday… sometimes twice. If anything went wrong with the food supply, everyone knew it. If the farmer found his wheat to be bad, he told people so they wouldn’t get sick. If he didn’t he would be seen in the pub, at the square dance and church on Sunday (maybe twice).

Thomas Jefferson, a farmer himself, wrote about the benefits of an agricultural society. When he and others like him came together for the second time to create a government, they didn’t see the need for a Food and Drug Administration. After all, why do we need a government agency to watch the food supply and for the most part, what are drugs?

Let’s jump forward 250 years to the present. Now, it is claimed by some, that government is taking control of our lives with agencies that tell us what to do and taking away our freedoms. One such agency is the Food and Drug Administration. It is partially tasked with watching our food supply to insure its safety both from natural born pathogens and poisons placed on or in them by processing. The agency occasionally gets something wrong, but for the most part, it works for the community’s benefit.

Ask why we need the agency and the answer is in the front page of the newspapers occasionally. Most recently is the Iowa egg producer, Wright County Egg and another company called Hillandale Farms. The owner, Austin J. DeCoster, said he would apologize to congress this week for the illnesses caused by the decades of bad eggs he released on to the market. The decisions that the owner and management of the company made were not made in the best interests of the community, only profit as he himself admitted.

He would have been tarred and feathered 250 years ago as described above. Everyone would have known where the eggs came from, if they had been sold at all. Placing responsibility and taking action would have been quick and clear.

The Food and Drug administration can not place all responsibility off on the farmer and the market. The administration's short comings will come to light and corrective action will be taken. But, the administration does make two very good points that need to be addressed.

First, the agency needs enough money to operate. It is becoming very common that government agencies that work for the benefit of the community are being under funded because of the anti-government fears that are being pushed by the small government commandos. They wax nostalgic when talking about the original intent of the county and how “massive” and “over bearing” government has become. By using Ronald Reagan’s tactics of underfunding government agencies if he couldn’t get rid of them, the agencies stay out of the way of businesses because they are not able to fully execute their function. This leads to less inspection and less long term legal work that is needed to end those companies that are consistently not in compliance.

Second, they need to provide the tools and weapons that are needed. In this case, the eggs were re-pact many times by suppliers. Nothing wrong with that, those companies that sell the eggs to the end user would like their names on the package, not Wright County Egg. (Seems that is a good decision in light of the bad pr that Wright is currently receiving) But, the eggs aren’t required to be sourced labeled. That means when people began to get sick from the bad eggs, health detectives had a more difficult time tracing the source back to Wright County Eggs. This not only delayed the reaction time to find the other bad eggs, it stalled all egg supplies from those producers that did a good job. More people became sick and more sales were lost. The effort to pass legislation to require source labeling has stalled many times in congress because of the industry lobbyists.

250 years ago, Thomas Jefferson and the other founders could not have conceived such a complex and wide spread market place that we have now. Since we are not able to personally know the people that produce our food today and see them on Sunday at church, we need a way to help keep the food supply safe. Since we didn’t form communities to still do everything for ourselves, agencies that work on our behalf is the best way to approach this problem.

Don’t fight government just for the sake of fighting government. There are some ways that we can reduce the size of government but don’t let it get in the way of safety.


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