Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 25, 2010

THE LINGERING CONSEQUENCES OF E COLI CONSERVATISM.... You've likely heard about the egg recall that's currently underway, in the wake of at least 1,300 salmonella-related illnesses spanning 22 states over the summer. The Washington Post noted this week that the outbreak highlights the need to fix "the holes in the country's food safety net."

As we learn more about the story, we see that the salmonella problems stem from an uninspected producer in Iowa, with a record of health, safety, labor, and other violations that go back 20 years. Democrats in Washington are nearing approval of a new food-safety bill, but Jonathan Cohn takes a closer look this morning at pending egg regulations, which have been lingering for quite a while.

Cohn notes that the "saga of these standards seems like a case study in how conservative politics and conservative politicians have weakened federal regulation, exposing the public to greater health risks."

It begins ... with the administration of Ronald Reagan. Convinced that excessive regulation was stifling American innovation and imposing unnecessary costs on the public, Reagan's team changed the way government makes rules.

Prior to the 1980s, agencies like the FDA had authority to finalize regulations on their own. Reagan changed that, forcing agencies to submit all regulations to the Office of Management and Budget, which cast a more skeptical eye on anything that would require the government or business to spend more money. The regulatory process slowed down and, in many cases, the people in charge of it became more skittish.

Clinton didn't share Reagan's antipathy to regulation. Prodded by consumer advocates and more liberal Democrats, his administration announced its intention to impose new safety requirements on the egg industry. But that happened in 1999, a year before Clinton left office. When George W. Bush succeeded him, the administration's posture reverted to its 1980s version.

Like Reagan, Bush was skeptical of government interference in the market. And, like Reagan, he appointed officials sympathetic to businesses that wanted to avoid the cost of complying with new federal rules. It was not until 2004, five years after Clinton had proposed the new egg rules, that the Bush Administration issued actual regulatory language. And by 2009, when Bush left office, the administration still had not finalized the rule.

William Hubbard, who was associate FDA commissioner from 1991 until 2005, told Cohn the Bush White House simply wouldn't let the FDA act, because Bush's team was "very hostile to regulation."

This isn't quite new -- we've seen related outbreaks a little too often in recent years, and much of it stems from insufficient government safeguards. Relevant companies are doing what the industry is expected to do -- exploiting loopholes to cut corners and save costs -- but if policymakers simply let the free market guide the food-safety process, the results include the salmonella illnesses we're seeing now.

The answer, then, is a political one -- federal officials need to intervene to do what American consumers cannot do for themselves, in this case, imposing stricter safety regulations. For all the Republican hatred of government regulation -- "I don't want Obama's hands in my eggs!" -- recent developments should turn the anti-government crusade on its head.

A few years ago, Rick Perlstein coined the phrase "E. Coli Conservatism." The importance of rejecting that ideology keeps getting stronger.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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Comments

Yet another reason I have said, "plant a garden, build a chicken coop behind the garage. "

-Not only will you weather the economic downturn, you may survive it. . .

Posted by: DAY on August 25, 2010 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

People who eat contaminated food have only themselves to blame. Private-sector labs will be happy to test your eggs before you have breakfast. Can't afford it? Work harder, bitch!

Posted by: SqueakyRat on August 25, 2010 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK

Just wait 20 or 30 years from now when the conservative greedy food farmer babies mature and deregulate the entire food industry.

Posted by: flyonthewall on August 25, 2010 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK

Actually it is a case study in our ratchet and pawl political system where Republicans move us further to the Right an Democrats, at best, make microscopic gains in the other direction. http://stopmebeforeivoteagain.org/stopme/chapter02.html

It isn't that Democrats are worse than Republicans. They simply act as the "pawl" that prevents the Country from truly reversing GOP policies when the GOP is out of power.

Posted by: square1 on August 25, 2010 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

in the Days of Yore, we read Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle' in high school.

They probably don't do that in today's Conservative dominated school systems, preferring "The Fountainhead" instead. . .

Posted by: DAY on August 25, 2010 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

The system at one time was motivated by what could be quaintly called , outrages . The folks on the hill would react , a law would be proposed , passed , signed into law , and all the good little boys and girls could awaken in a world a bit safer than the one they fell asleep in .
Oh how naive we were to imagine that the "free" hand of the market would tolerate that sort of criminal shoshalist interference . Tsk

Posted by: FRP on August 25, 2010 at 9:11 AM | PERMALINK

But instead of focusing a constant and critical eye on E. Coli Conservatism, the so-called "liberal media" is yammering about the no-Ground Zero not-Mosque.

Posted by: Gregory on August 25, 2010 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

I will never understand how so many people can put their blind trust in the hands of corporations that stand to gain enormous profits by exploiting the weaknesses of consumers but remain pathologically skeptical of a government that is — at the very least designed to be — of, by and for the people.

Posted by: chrenson on August 25, 2010 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

People want to trust the authorities on issues such as this. And they have been carefully cultivated by corporate media to do so. And while our government was designed to be of, by, and for the people, it has been carefully changed to replace 'people' with 'corporations.'

Maybe one day soon people will figure out that this is not in their best interests. But each day that goes by with all of the inanity and willful ignorance on display, I fear that day may never come.

In the meantime, if you get sick from eggs, well, that just means that you haven't worked hard enough to afford to own a free-range chicken plantation with eggs of your own. So get sick and die. The number of people get sick or even die from something like this (and beef, and broccoli, etc.) and the negative publicity for a few days is far, far outweighed by the profits that are made from avoiding regulations.

Posted by: terraformer on August 25, 2010 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

Real Americans don't eat eggs anyway, so what's the problem?

Eggs are the main ingredient of quiche, a French dish, and Eggs Benedict, a name that makes patriotic Americans shudder.

Posted by: Al on August 25, 2010 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

I found an Austin J. DeCoster who has received farm subsidies from the USDA. Further googling reveals the "J" to be Jack DeCoster, who apparently is listed in the reports as the owner of the farm in question. Is this joker receiving federal tax dollars and trying to kill Americans too?

http://farm.ewg.org/persondetail.php?custnumber=000014848

Posted by: flyonthewall on August 25, 2010 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

It's a trend.

Let folks who are "earning" money do what they think best to maximize profits.

Wall Street.

Deepwater Horizon.

The MIC in Iraqistan. (sic)

Monsanto and genetic control.

Now, the food giants.

The trend is easily seen as greed trumps altruism.

The Democrats have got to jump on the food scare, it's huge.

What if what we are seeing is a genetic horror, the genes of chickens being co-mingled with bacteria?

We scoff at the idea that our food system is way better than China's (swine flu, sars, etc). But what if we are brewing untold new virus/bacteria nightmares?

Look no further than anti-biotic resistant bacteria (super strep, etc.)

Going green just may save your life if it means having copious amounts of locally grown organic food-stuffs.

(don't forget ADDHD and pesticide residues)

The legacy of less regulation is there for us all to see.

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on August 25, 2010 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

Eggs are the main ingredient of quiche, a French dish, and Eggs Benedict, a name that makes patriotic Americans shudder.

And colored eggs seem to be associated with a religious celebration called Easter. Do Muslims color their eggs?

Posted by: flyonthewall on August 25, 2010 at 9:32 AM | PERMALINK

"And colored eggs seem to be associated with a religious celebration called Easter. Do Muslims color their eggs?"

They practically invented Easter, which is named after the old babylonian goddess Istara.

You better run for your life!

Posted by: Vokoban on August 25, 2010 at 9:39 AM | PERMALINK

flyonthewall 9:28 good information. Can you make a direct link DeCoster/Grassly?

Posted by: Ted76 on August 25, 2010 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

Who's up for hosting an omelette breakfast for the Republican Caucus?

Posted by: Diane Rodriguez on August 25, 2010 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

I have a question I have never seen addressed: When a person gets sick enough from the eggs, or other food-related illness, or injured by a flawed product that was caused by the producer/manufacturer, and has to seek medical assistance and does not have adequate or any health coverage, who pays? I read that x# of people got sick or died, but there is no reporting on who paid for their treatment. What if I get sick and cannot afford to even go to the ER? Who pays? The seller or producer of the eggs, for instance? The government? The taxpayers?
Anyone know the answer?

Posted by: st john on August 25, 2010 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

flyonthewall 9:28 good information. Can you make a direct link DeCoster/Grassly?

I searched the Fed Election Commission and could not locate any donations from DeCoster or Wright Egg farms. I did find one donation for $2300 from Peter Decoster listed as Wright Farms but was given to Hillary. Perhaps Peter is the red headed step child?

They practically invented Easter, which is named after the old babylonian goddess Istara.

Yes, but do Muslims eat colored eggs?

Posted by: flyonthewall on August 25, 2010 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

If people knew what was in our food and what they do to our food, there would be such an outrage. If people could only see how the animals are kept and the things they are given to fattened them up for our consumption they would be appalled.

Posted by: Schtick on August 25, 2010 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

flyonthewall 9:28 good information. Can you make a direct link DeCoster/Grassly?

Further research details a Robin Grassley of New Hartford, IA, as being listed as "children" of Charles Grassley, according to wikipedia (your mileage may vary). According to the farm subsidy website I referenced, Robin has received 783,548.27 from 1995-2009. Charles is from New Hartfort.

http://farm.ewg.org/addrsearch.php?s=yup&stab=IA&city=&zip=&last=Grassley&first=&stab=IA&i=Search+Recipients&fullname=&stab2=AL

Posted by: flyonthewall on August 25, 2010 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

True, Republicans petition for less regulation, publicly, and ideologically.

Democrats, publicly, are more pragmatic in regulation/market approaches. But behind closed doors, if you look at Dem politicians in Ag states (Arkansas?) they're fairly willing to take Tyson's or Monsanto's money, for instance, and work against effective regulations.

So, sure, the propaganda put out by right wingers, Republicans and astroturf outfits does harm, as does Republican votes. But some Dems are in the way too.

Posted by: flubber on August 25, 2010 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

"Relevant companies are doing what the industry is expected to do-- exploiting loopholes to cut corners and save costs"

I think this statement reveals a key to this and other recent calamities. The expectation is that businesses will manipulate or circumvent safeguards to maximize profits, and this is part of the game.

Why is this the expectation? Couldn't the public, press and government work from an expectation that businesses are members of the American (or world) community, and so ought to act in a responsible manner? Deliberate acts that are contrary to this expectation should be as unacceptable as individual acts of theft, vandalism and murder!

If a corporation is now a 'person', then they might be expected to pay a 'personal' penalty for crimes, and be imprisoned outside of society. If I rob a store, I cannot argue that my right hand and foot were the perpetrators, and can go to jail while the rest of my body is free. Similarly, a corporation cannot argue that only one division, department or manager should be incarcerated or fined while the rest conduct business as usual.

For the crime of public mass poisoning, or deploying a potentially deadly biological agent to the public, the corporate persons involved should be subject to the arrest of their normal activities, from top to bottom, for a number of years. If there are fatalities, then the death penalty may be applied as well.

Posted by: Daniel Kim on August 25, 2010 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK

By the way, the former governor of Iowa, you know, the state with the factory farms that lead to massive outbreaks of contaminated food, isn't he the current Secretary of Agriculture?

What a pathetic attempt to use a serious health scare for partisan grandstanding. You're becoming more like your adversaries every day.

Posted by: Sean Scallon on August 25, 2010 at 9:20 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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