Let’s start with the water bottle. Because that’s just such a strange modern mentality to begin with… the notion that something is safer or more pure because it’s in a sealed plastic bottle. But okay, last week we were visiting family and they like to keep a lot of small bottles of water cooled in the refrigerator. And I reached in for one… and it had been opened, about a third of its volume was missing. I thought, “Somebody poured some out, then put it back. It’s fine.” Or… did they drink with their icky, spooky lips wrapped around the top of it, the backwash factor looming large. Long story short, I put it back and just had a glass of water from the tap.
The glass was presumed cleaned by a dishwashing machine, the tap water was presumed cleaned by the municipal agencies that tend to such things. I didn’t notice if anyone in the household was suffering from a cold or the flu. Ladies and gentlemen, you begin to see the fresh hell we’ve created for ourselves.
Last week, a report presented by a government panel of experts stated that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) isn’t equipped to handle problems with the food supply and is in need of a major revamping. The key appears to be getting the FDA to do more from a proactive preventative standpoint rather than waiting to react when something is discovered to be tainted.
The FDA needs to squarely focus its efforts on identifying and addressing high-risk areas and on preventing food borne illness in the first place, according to the report issued by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the National Research Council at the request of Congress. Oh, and keeping crude oil out of seafood. There’s been so much attention on the Gulf spill that others matters of government, like the safety of the food you feed your children or the wars we’re still fighting, haven’t been as much on our minds.
The FDA has long intrigued me because it’s the one government agency that I think can never quite be what we want it to be: A food and drug safety assurance division running at 100 percent success 24-7. Consider the multitude of sources for American diets right now. Add to that people ingesting health food supplements that are not reviewed the same as drugs. Mix in the nearly impossible task of ensuring that every food processing plant running around the clock has only the best personnel working conscientiously. American food plant products are produced at a volume that almost insists that we can’t test every single item. Even when the entrees on the menu at McDonald’s have passed a level of government scrutiny, your child can still end up drinking out of a cadmium-tainted glass that everybody presumed was as friendly as the green monster pictured on it.
California is wrestling with approval of a new pesticide for strawberries. As we go, so may go the nation, although the New York Times reports that California already grows 90 percent of the nation’s strawberries. A review committee testifying before the State Senate claims that testing of the chemical, methyl iodide, was done with flawed and improperly conducted scientific research. A previously used chemical was determined to deplete the ozone, so growers sought an alternative. But one UCLA professor has said of methyl iodide “This is without question one of the most toxic chemicals on earth.” And just so we know what we’re talking about, methyl iodide is a neurotoxic chemical that can contribute to neurodevelopment disorders such as autism spectrum disorders.
And too much salt is bad, too. But can we all be on the same page in recognizing that between engineering the genetics of our food, making decisions on pesticides approved as research comes and goes, and then hoping that every single processor of food will have the good sense and upbringing not to toss a few tons of cheaper, bad peanuts into the peanut butter… there is still going to be a margin of error. I’m arguing that the FDA will never become the bureaucratic equivalent of that mythical thing we have in our heads about water in plastic bottles. That’s not out there to be realized. If you want to grow all your food in your own backyard, that’s a possibility. But at a certain point, everything is a best effort made by humans. There are always better ways to administrate, but you are still not working with robots.
We’re all going to come off this BP spill with at least something like a fresh perspective on the entire notion of oversight and responsibility and safety. But the big picture demands that we must place ourselves and our own fallibility in it. Again, we buy that gasoline. Will we quit oil and start acting smarter? We want the FDA to protect our safety, yet many of us have a problem protecting our own safety when it comes to using our cell phones while driving. We say we abhor gun violence, but we have well-funded organizations fighting for our right to buy our own guns and have them in our homes. A pitch for safety and purity in California food plants: Let’s not legalize pot on the next ballot. For one thing, I’d prefer everyone handling my food to be at their top performance. And it’s going to be mighty frustrating to the hard-working people in the FDA if they reorganize their procedures to keep our food safe, then we eat the recalled tainted peanut butter anyway because, well, dude… we were so hungry. We want safety in our food and drink and every single day dedicated people to get up and work to protect us. Let’s give them the administrative tools they need, and then agree that everyone involved will be as human as we are.