Entrenched government and mad cow disease

Jim, you wrote yesterday about the three eternal powers that rival our elected officials. It was a great post and demonstrated, sadly, that despite all the media coverage and all the emotions and money spent on the fall elections, there is really not that much that can change. The story in the last couple days about a cow in California found with mad cow disease illustrates it well. Having written a novel awhile ago where mad cow disease played a large role, I always perk up when I see it in the news. Of course the stories were mostly short and dismissive and told really only to assure the public that all was well and safe and there was nothing to worry about. John Stauber, the co-author of “Mad Cow USA,” probably the definitive book on the subject in America, looks beyond the headline news in a great essay in the Progressive. I think it well illustrates what you call the third of the eternal powers in America that rival our elected officials. These are the entrenched government lifers, who do most of the work of government, and the actual grunt work of enforcement of regulations and rules. The vast majority of these officials are conscientious, wonderful people working hard to serve their country. And sometimes when things go bad it becomes a huge news story, as recently seen with the GSA scandal and the secret service. But mostly what these people do is under the radar for both good and bad. Inspecting our food supply is part of the bad, as Stauber shows. Even when new standards are passed, there has to be money to enforce them, and that is often where the political will fails and things just stumble on as they have been.
The fact is, we only test around 40,000 out of the millions of cattle slaughtered every year. The test we use is not as effective as the test used in the rest of the world, mainly because we don’t want to find anything. I understand that hearing things like this is what makes some conservatives say it is all a waste of money and we should just get rid of all the rules. I think that is simply asking for anarchy and chaos. Government falls far short of what it should be doing in ensuring our food supply is safe, and the only option is to work hard to make the government better, make the rules better, and make the enforcement better. It does get back to the idea of freedom. Where do we find the balance in our individual freedom to buy and eat food without fear it will make us sick or kill us vs. the freedom of corporations to maximize profit at the expense of safety. It’s pretty clear where I draw that line.

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About JP

We're two guys who met in college, in 1980. We've stayed in touch, and like to talk politics, current events, music and religion. JP is nore liberal than Sid, but not in every way. We figure that dialogue stimulates ideas, moderates perspective, and is in general friendly. These are things we need badly in these dangerous times. The blog name is taken from a song by Bruce Cockburn.
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