Join 3,501 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


It Can't Taste THAT Bad
September 20, 2005 3:39 PM   Subscribe

Tons of British Food for Katrina Victims to be Incinerated (link to Mirror article)
More red tape embarrassment for the Katrina relief effort. This time, tons of food donated by the UK is set to be incinerated rather than delivered to hungry evacuees. The FDA recalled the food rations, which had been loaded onto trucks and sent out for distribution, because they had been "condemned as unfit for human consumption". Never mind the glaring fact that these are the same food rations being eaten by British soldiers in Iraq right now.
posted by fenriq (82 comments total)

 
Apologies for KatrinaFilter but I felt this was outrageous enough and important enough to post to the front page. I'm sure you'll let me know if you think otherwise.
posted by fenriq at 3:40 PM on September 20, 2005


Hmm.. that joke's too easy. Moving on.
posted by Stan Chin at 3:42 PM on September 20, 2005


...the world's richest nation couldn't organise a piss up in a brewery...

Those Brits, they have a way with words.
posted by spacewrench at 3:45 PM on September 20, 2005


Moses received the word of the Lord from a burning bush. Let's try it again.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 3:46 PM on September 20, 2005


Is there actualy a lack of food for the refugees right now? The article called them "starving" but I'm under the impression that they are not, in fact, starving.

I'm sure the FDA had some reason why they were opposed to this particular food.
posted by delmoi at 3:47 PM on September 20, 2005


You know, I get the feeling that many of the shock/horror stories coming out around Katrina are probably staple occurences of a lot of these situations, needlessly magnified by people with agendas - i.e. The Mirror.
posted by fire&wings at 3:48 PM on September 20, 2005


It is a well-known phenomenon for food and medicine donated for international aid to actually be unusuable. Not that that's necessarily what's happening here, but it might be less outrageous than it seems at first. Also, I haven't heard that any evacuees are actively going hungry at the moment.
posted by footnote at 3:49 PM on September 20, 2005


[insert joke about British cuisine and "edible" here]
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:50 PM on September 20, 2005


Here's another piece on inappropriate food and drug donations.
posted by footnote at 3:52 PM on September 20, 2005


footnote, you're right but these are the same MRE's being issued to soldiers in Iraq right now. There's not a thing wrong with the food except that its got red tape all over it.

grapefruitmoon, check out the page title.
posted by fenriq at 3:53 PM on September 20, 2005


I'm sure the FDA had some reason why they were opposed to this particular food.

Of course, the reason is that Halliburton has a no-bid contract to feed the refugees, and this particular food wasn't prepaired by them.

(AFAIK, This is completely false)
posted by darkness at 3:53 PM on September 20, 2005


The article is a little confusing.

The FDA said: "We did inspect some MREs (meals ready to eat) on September 13. They are the only MREs we looked at. There were 70 huge pallets of vegetarian MREs. They were from a foreign nation. We inspected them and then released them for distribution."

I bought MREs for the US Department of Defense from 1995 - 2000. We also bought and managed the 'vegetarian MRE' which we called the HDR or Humanitarian Daily Ration. The funds for the HDR came from the State Department. The International Red Cross had their own food aid packet Maybe the 'vegetarian MRE' referred to in the article is this item?

Anyway, this is a sorry pissing match over beef/meat imports. AFAIK, US troopers don't eat the NATO ration unless they are doing NATO exercises.
posted by fixedgear at 3:54 PM on September 20, 2005


"Unfit for human consumption" is such a loaded phrase. The only other status is probably "acceptable".
posted by smackfu at 4:00 PM on September 20, 2005


"There's not a thing wrong with the food except that its got red tape all over it."

You know this how?

"I'm under the impression that they are not, in fact, starving."

After viewing a CNN segment last week, I was under the impression that some of the kids are now eating 3 square meals a day for the first time in their lives.
posted by mischief at 4:05 PM on September 20, 2005


OTOH, if they're getting three squares, they certainly don't want MRE's. They're a meal of last resort. I'm surprised the UK troops are eating them in Iraq; I would think they'd have proper mess halls set up.
posted by smackfu at 4:08 PM on September 20, 2005


mischief, because I read the article, why don't you go RTA and read my comments above. Let me know if you still have questions.

Heck, just read the one line second paragraph of the article. Acutally, here let me make it really easy for you, "US red tape is stopping it [HUNDREDS of tons of British food aid shipped to America] from reaching hungry evacuees."
posted by fenriq at 4:09 PM on September 20, 2005


Information re - UK 24 hour Ration Packs is available here (.pdf) and includes information about the variant meals such as veggie, halal, Sikh/Hindu etc. IIRC, American units were swapping MREs for 24 hr ratpacks during Gulf Adventure 1 due to the higher quality and excellent choice. Wonder what has changed since then?
posted by longbaugh at 4:10 PM on September 20, 2005


Stan Chin writes: Hmm.. that joke's too easy. Moving on.
grapefruitmoon writes: [insert joke about British cuisine and "edible" here]

Nice of Stan to leave the low hanging fruit for someone who needs it more.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:20 PM on September 20, 2005


Why the fuck don't they just send it back instead of burning it?!
posted by Specklet at 4:21 PM on September 20, 2005


Who is dumb enough to send food 4,000+ miles? What a fucking waste of energy.

The Red Cross specifically asked (me) for no food or water donations.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:25 PM on September 20, 2005


IIRC, American units were swapping MREs for 24 hr ratpacks during Gulf Adventure 1 due to the higher quality and excellent choice.

Yeah, and they were swapping for the French rats 'cause they had pate.

Smackfu, British troops and US Troops get hot mess hall chow when they are in secure areas and eat MREs/Ration Packs when they are on the move.
posted by fixedgear at 4:25 PM on September 20, 2005


It seems the food is held back because of mad cow regulations.

May 2003: President Bush accused European nations of contributing to famine in Africa because of their reluctance to accept GM foods.

"GM food aid was sent to southern Africa during the current drought, despite strong reservations from Africa.

Zambia banned the aid, saying it would rather go hungry than risk losing its export markets in Europe because its crops had been contaminated with GM seed."

"...famine-ridden nations in southern Africa have chosen to reject offers of GM food aid from the United States."

Previous thread here.
posted by iviken at 4:35 PM on September 20, 2005


"US red tape is stopping it [HUNDREDS of tons of British food aid shipped to America] from reaching hungry evacuees."

That statement, nor any of the rest of the Mirror article, says nothing about the food's fitness for consumption. The CNN article to which you link has nothing to do with food from Britain. In fact, the word 'food' is nowhere on that page.
posted by mischief at 4:36 PM on September 20, 2005


mischief, hmm, let's see, how can I explain this to you.

The red tape embarrassment links were more to the overall tone of the administration's (non)-response to the disaster that was Katrina. Not all of the relief effort's failures have to do with food, some have to do with medical relief, some have to do with locational relief, some have to do with submerged busses and spin control. I was intending to show that the relief effort's been botched on all sides, not just this one instance of donated food being destroyed rather than distributed.

The fact that the linked article says it clearly isn't enough for you. Okay, how about the fact that British soldiers in Iraq are eating the same food being slated for incineration, the same rations. Have you been reading about massive poisoning of British troops in Iraq? I haven't.
posted by fenriq at 4:43 PM on September 20, 2005


Upon further clicking, neither of the Newsweek and MSNBC articles mention this british food issue either.
posted by mischief at 4:44 PM on September 20, 2005


The article does not clearly state that the food is fit for consumption, only that it is being fed to british troops. As a veteran of many USMC field exercises, I cannot assume that this food is edible.
posted by mischief at 4:48 PM on September 20, 2005


In other news, trucks that are full of ice for Katrina victims are sent up to Maine to "store it."
posted by daninnj at 4:48 PM on September 20, 2005


As a veteran of many USMC field exercises, I cannot assume that this food is edible.

that's a Monty Python line, right?

After viewing a CNN segment last week, I was under the impression that some of the kids are now eating 3 square meals a day for the first time in their lives.

Barbara Bush is on MetaFilter!
posted by matteo at 4:56 PM on September 20, 2005


More about the ice trucks here.
posted by iviken at 4:56 PM on September 20, 2005


"Barbara Bush is on MetaFilter!"

So, are you saying those kids WEREN'T from impoverished families? You guys really should make up your minds.
posted by mischief at 5:01 PM on September 20, 2005


mischief, you're either being intentionally obtuse or you are a pretty disgusting human being. I will hope that you're just being obtuse.
posted by fenriq at 5:06 PM on September 20, 2005


Neither. Show me anywhere in those articles that says the food arrived in the US in an edible state.
posted by mischief at 5:08 PM on September 20, 2005


Have you been reading about massive poisoning of British troops in Iraq?
I didn't know the British have a massive military force in Iraq, just the US. I do know food is the lesser of the necessities being needed for Katrina's homeless. Shelter being the primary then clothes & employment.
posted by thomcatspike at 5:19 PM on September 20, 2005


It would be nice if there was a source other than the Mirror, whose major source is an anonymous aid worker. That's just bad reporting.
posted by smackfu at 5:21 PM on September 20, 2005


You can find enough money for a McDonalds burger on the sidewalk, I doubt they were starving.

Now, three nutritious good meals a day may be a new thing for some.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:25 PM on September 20, 2005


"That's just bad reporting" : aka spin
posted by mischief at 5:25 PM on September 20, 2005


Moses received the word of the Lord from a burning bush. Let's try it again.
Another man, Richard Humphreys, happened to get into a harmless barside discussion with a truck driver. A bartender who overheard the conversation realized that Bush was scheduled to visit nearby Sioux Falls the next day, and he told police that Humphreys–who made a joke with a biblical reference–had talked about a "burning Bush" and the possibility of someone pouring a flammable liquid on Bush and lighting it. Humphreys was arrested for threatening the president.

"I said God might speak to the world through a burning Bush," he testified during his trial. "I had said that before and I thought it was funny."

Nevertheless, he was found guilty and sentenced to more than three years in prison. He decided to appeal, on the basis that his comment was a prophecy, protected under his right to freedom of speech.
posted by prak at 5:29 PM on September 20, 2005


I'm sure the FDA had some reason why they were opposed to this particular food.
posted by delmoi at 3:47 PM PST on September 20 [!]

Because it wasn't supplied from and paid for to Halliburton? You know, contracts and all...
posted by Balisong at 5:33 PM on September 20, 2005


The original BBC story from when they announced they were sending them: What's in emergency ration packs?

Also there's this:

Bret Archbold, an Air Force Senior Master Sergeant, said there had been delays that had left international aid shipments for Hurricane Katrina victims sitting in Arkansas.

He also revealed that British army ration packs which arrived on Wednesday have been held back because of concerns about beef safety.

In London, the Ministry of Defence said that US authorities had specifically requested the ration packs, and it was up to US officials whether they distribute the food.

--source

Further emergency supplies such as blankets, tarpaulins, camp beds and military tents could follow later this week, but the US has indicated that food is the most urgent priority.
--source

So, we asked for them, and then we decided they were "unfit for human consumption." Crazy, ain't it?

And footnote, there are still some rural areas that are just now beginning to get relief and aid of any sort. Just because the people in New Orleans have been eating doesn't mean that everyone in the 90,000 square mile region is seeing fresh water and food yet. Not to mention, without jobs, stores, banks and houses, it's a little hard to feed yourself without someone giving you some food.
posted by Orb at 5:50 PM on September 20, 2005


Because it wasn't supplied from and paid for to Halliburton? You know, contracts and all...

Well, who knows the reason. I don't, but I think it's overreaction to say that people are literally going to starve over this.
posted by delmoi at 5:52 PM on September 20, 2005


Because it wasn't supplied from and paid for to Halliburton? You know, contracts and all...

If that was the case, don't you think Halliburton would just keep the money from the contract, and then let the people eat the donated food, instead of wasting their own resources? That would be the "evil" thing to do... ;)
posted by stifford at 5:55 PM on September 20, 2005


My immediate response was to think "oh, for crying out loud," and then consider just forgetting that I'd ever heard of FEMA, let alone Katrina.

I wonder if that's their goal.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:57 PM on September 20, 2005


No, the 'evil' thing to do would be to burn all those rations instead of maybe airdropping them to somewhere in Africa, or Iraq...

But we can't let assets like these drop into enemy hands, can we?
posted by Balisong at 6:16 PM on September 20, 2005


thomcatspike writes "I didn't know the British have a massive military force in Iraq, just the US."

Surely you jest.
posted by clevershark at 6:33 PM on September 20, 2005


Regardless of the other content of the article, those are the most egregiously obviously chosen-for-emotional-value photographs of the disaster I've seen anywhere.

That said, while conditions at (say) the Astrodome have improved immeasurably, there are still places like Biloxi where there are tent-cities-in-place for those left homeless. I'm sure this food is needed someplace.

A bit of checking suggests that the red-handed red tape in question is the Bioterrorism Act of 2002, which basically ups the ante in terms of inspection and certification of even foreign food processors, which have to pass new registration rules. I'm guessing either that the facility which made these MREs isn't registered, either because paperwork has delayed it, or because it never expected to export the MREs to the US in the first place. I doubt that the MREs have actually been inspected and found rotten in any way -- it's just that they aren't acceptable without the proper paperwork.

Which seems to be the endemic problem of this disaster.
posted by dhartung at 9:47 PM on September 20, 2005


"it's just that they aren't acceptable without the proper paperwork."

Just imagine the public uproar if the feds HADN'T recalled those MREs once they discovered this glitch!
posted by mischief at 11:00 PM on September 20, 2005


I dont' get why people diss on US MREs so much. Sure, it's not a Hungry Man TV dinner, but I'd say they're better than airline food.

My wife and I have a case of MREs here in case of emergency, and a couple of times we've gotten bored and had MREs for dinner. If I had to eat them every day I might want a little more variety, but they're certainly more than edible. Packed full of calories (~4000 AFAIK) too.

BTW: The "Veggie Burger" MRE made of "soy protein" tastes like a Slim Jim. Different, but good.
posted by mrbill at 11:09 PM on September 20, 2005


Curried mutton? The Brit MREs have curried mutton? Lucky bastards: I was recently given a whole case of U.S. MREs for Xmas, so I know our troops get beefaroni and hot dogs.
posted by davy at 11:11 PM on September 20, 2005


That MRE beefaroni isn't bad. The only difference is airline food won't constipate you.
Which, come to think of it would come in handy in NOLA if you have to do a lot of walking anyway....
posted by Smedleyman at 12:08 AM on September 21, 2005


"There is more BSE in the States than there ever was in Britain and UK meat has been safe for years."
Well of course there is, but thank God most of it has been consumed in Washington D.C.
posted by Mack Twain at 1:37 AM on September 21, 2005


The article is confusing because it says the reason is the food was "deemed unfit for human consumption", which is just so perfect for a joke or two about who has the better food, and then says the FDA blocked it because of regulations on meat imports. It's either the one or the other, and seen as they didn't inspect the food, obviously it's about regulations. Which is entirely likely because the FDA has very strict regulations about importing food and a maddening way of dealing with regulations in the first place.

Also, the point is not how many people you saw on tv being handed meals by volunteers in a shelter, or what the Red Cross said about not donating food or clothes, this has nothing to do with the Red Cross or any NGO's, this is direct government to government aid, and if the UK and other nations sent the food it was obviously agreed with the US.
posted by funambulist at 2:28 AM on September 21, 2005


The article is confusing because it says the reason is the food was "deemed unfit for human consumption", which is just so perfect for a joke or two about who has the better food, and then says the FDA blocked it because of regulations on meat imports. It's either the one or the other, and seen as they didn't inspect the food, obviously it's about regulations. Which is entirely likely because the FDA has very strict regulations about importing food and a maddening way of dealing with regulations in the first place.

Also, the point is not how many people you saw on tv being handed meals by volunteers in a shelter, or what the Red Cross said about not donating food or clothes, this has nothing to do with the Red Cross or any NGO's, this is direct government to government aid, and if the UK and other nations sent the food it was obviously agreed with the US.
posted by funambulist at 2:28 AM on September 21, 2005


Or it could be that the "unfit for human consumption" is the phrase the FDA would use for food that cannot be imported due to those regulations.

And what orb wrote and quoted above.

If the donation hadn't been requested and approved by the US, no country would have bothered to send the food. That it should be held due to regulations is absurd, those regulations might make sense when it's about normal commercial imports, not aid. Otherwise, the US should have made it clear that the FDA regulations would still apply and therefore specifically ask to avoid sending beef.

The point is not how good that beef is, it's that no one thought about preventing that burocratic deadlock.
posted by funambulist at 2:40 AM on September 21, 2005


smackfu: It would be nice if there was a source other than the Mirror, whose major source is an anonymous aid worker.

Is the US Department of Agriculture good enough a source then? Here you go, from the Associated Press :
British meals ready-to-eat donated for Hurricane Katrina victims as part of an international relief effort have sat on shelves at an air base in Arkansas because of U.S. regulations put in place after a mad cow disease scare.

... "We have an obligation to hold the food we're distributing to evacuees to the same standards we maintain for all Americans on a daily basis," Agriculture Department spokeswoman Terri Teuber said. "We are not saying these MREs are unfit or unsafe. We're saying they don't meet the importation standards, and they are being set aside."
And here's another article from the UK that quotes the British Minister of Defense:
The US Food and Drug Agency recalled the aid after it had already been distributed and took it to Little Rock, Arkansas, to await destruction. Last night, the MoD confirmed that 400,000 operational ration packs had been shipped to the US.

Officials said the US Department of Agriculture impounded the shipment under regulations relating to the import and export of meat.

... The MoD said: "The situation is changing all the time.

"On Friday, we were told progress was being made in relation to the release of these packs.

"Their exact whereabouts now is a matter for US authorities".
posted by funambulist at 3:06 AM on September 21, 2005


Lets see:
Pork Pies, Baked Beans, Yorkshire Pudding, Fish & Chips...
vs.
Pork Rinds, Pork & Beans, Pancakes, Mc. Donalds...

I could go on all day.

The only thing that is really different between English and American eating habits is that Yanks eat too much bloody food. Walk through most any town in the U.S. and the evidence is all around you; it's fat, and getting fatter.

There: another generalization for all you weak-minded fools to internalize. Yes YOU, Stan Chin and Grapefruitmoon.
posted by stonesy at 5:42 AM on September 21, 2005


Have you guys tried natto? It's totally unfit for human consumption ... oh wait
posted by adzuki at 6:05 AM on September 21, 2005


If the donation hadn't been requested and approved by the US, no country would have bothered to send the food. That it should be held due to regulations is absurd, those regulations might make sense when it's about normal commercial imports, not aid.

That's a huge assumption to make. And feeding them food that would not otherwise pass import regulations would have been a scandal too, as others have pointed out on this thread.

I'm not saying Katrina relief has been managed well; obviously it hasn't. But the world is not black and white. There could be very good reasons for rejecting the food.

I've heard so many stories about people being outraged, just outraged that their help (old clothes, ice, food, whatever) wasn't taken. But just because people have the laudable impulse to help doesn't mean that their help is what's needed. It could even get in the way if it's not appropriate. That's lesson one in the context of international humanitarian aid, and it applies to Katrina as much as anywhere else. For an enlightening read on the matter, check out The Road to Hell, a book about the unintended consequences of misguided aid in the 90s.
posted by footnote at 7:28 AM on September 21, 2005


ok then footnote, fair enough, but even if those FDA regulations on imports were all and entirely about food safety and not commercial reasons (and that's another big assumption to make) and if there really was no way to make an exception for aid as opposed to commercial imports, then, like I said, they could have at least made sure they informed those nations not to send beef whose import is strictly forbidden. How about that? It doesn't sound that complicated.

The world is not black and white but I don't see a grey area here where it's the responsibility of the UK or Spanish or Israeli government to make sure their emergency aid would not be impounded after getting to the US because of regulations they weren't told to be mindful of in this case.

But just because people have the laudable impulse to help doesn't mean that their help is what's needed.

That's a moot point here. This was goverment aid, not private donations to charities or ngo's. It was specifically requested and approved by the US government. See again what orb quoted.
posted by funambulist at 7:56 AM on September 21, 2005


insert joke about British cuisine and "edible" here

Insert joke about dumb yanks who are too out of touch to realise how outdated such jokes are.
posted by Decani at 8:26 AM on September 21, 2005


I get the feeling that the gulf coast is going to be turned into the trash heap of the United States. Saturday I saw an ad in the paper for Rooms To Go which is planning on donating thousands of rooms of furniture and calling on the public to bring them china, glasswear and linens to make the donations more complete.

Next I went to Kohl's Department store where they were asking for used clothing. Donate one item and get an in-store 15% coupon.

Then I went to the grocery store which had organized a big Katrina Charity Festival. They were calling on customers to donate grooming items, clothing and toys.

I can't help but wonder about all the stuff that is being collected. Will it all get used or will most of it end up being tossed?
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:43 AM on September 21, 2005


Funambulist - I'm no apologist for the Bush admin, but Orb's links do nothing to contradict what I said. The US may have asked for the rations, but that doesn't mean they were obligated to take what they got; it sounds like some of the British officials understand that. Yes, it looks bad, and may be further evidence of bad organization, but you're missing the crucial point: nobody has any right to help. You can offer, and it can be accepted or not. Unless I see evidence that people are actively going hungry as a direct result of this, and that there was no good reason to hold the food, then I won't pass judgment on this particular episode. In an emergency management situation, the last thing you should be worried about is hurting the feelings of donors (except, of course, to the extent that that might keep them from donating things you actually need later on.)
posted by footnote at 9:36 AM on September 21, 2005


Secret Life of Gravy, well, if they toss it into one huge pile in the middle of New Orleans, isn't that killing two birds with one pile?

footnote, the UK food represents a lot of money and lot of goodwill from the English. To destroy it because of red tape is like punching every person in the UK in the face. "Thanks for trying to help but, hey, fuck you." I know if I'd donated to this food delivery and found out it was going to be destroyed, I wouldn't be donating to any relief efforts again. I can just as easily take a hundred bucks out of my wallet, set fire to it and cut out the middleman.
posted by fenriq at 9:56 AM on September 21, 2005


footnote, I don't really follow this: The US may have asked for the rations, but that doesn't mean they were obligated to take what they got; it sounds like some of the British officials understand that.

Look, I don't want to be tiresome about this, but you are completely misunderstanding the situation - it's not a question of "may", it is not an assumption and we don't even need links or quotes to prove it: it is simply not possible for any government aid to be sent over to the goverment of another nation without any prior agreements between the two governments, because for one thing there wouldn't be the resources ready to receive, handle and distribute it. It requires a lot of administrative work. It's not like dropping clothes at Oxfam!


Remember when Rice in a press conference early on after the disaster answered reporters questions on the status of foreign aid and if any offers had been refused and she said no, but that it was all still being set up? People were implying there was a possibility the US goverment was deliberately turning down offers, while it was a matter of more time needed to process them. The delay was also because the request had to be officially presented by the US government and they hadn't done it yet because they didn't know yet what kind of aid they would need. It was also discussed here on Metafilter.

Yes, it looks bad, and may be further evidence of bad organization, but you're missing the crucial point: nobody has any right to help. You can offer, and it can be accepted or not.

Well that's a lovely sentiment. But again, the procedure here is a very formal one and you can be 100% sure there was an offer which had to be formalised into a request-acceptance. Otherwise it would just not have been possible to even start sending those packages.

The issue is not "hurting the feelings" of the British or Spanish or anyone else whose food packages are being held by the FDA, although obviously it's not a thrilling suprise, it's that that aid is going to waste for a burocratic reason, for regulations that are in place normally, and that no one took the time to make sure would not be an obstacle in case of emergency like this - again, either treat aid differently from commercial imports, or more likely and less problematic, make sure your request for aid specifies that aid must not include products like beef whose import is regulated.

That's where the problem is - they raised the issue after the food was already there on US soil, so now, according to regulations, it has to be destroyed. That's what is maddening. It won't reach the people it was intended to reach. It's a joke, a waste of resource and a waste of administrative work that could have been avoided.
posted by funambulist at 10:30 AM on September 21, 2005


In the end, I really don't care that the US government has decided to reject the food aide. The only people that decision is likely to hurt are Americans. You go to disaster with the government you elected, not the one you want.

What does piss me off is the very idea of destroying the rations instead of redirecting them to a country that would make use of them. They're army MREs: it is highly unlikely that they have "gone bad." Leave them in the warehouse while the various agencies get their shit together, then ship them off to some starving third-world country. Faced with the choice between sure starvation and a negligble chance of contracting BSE, I think the people there will be more than happy to have a bite.

And it would make the US look a little better in the world's eyes. Incinerating the food can only make the USA look very, very bad.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:46 AM on September 21, 2005


I told them not to send the Marmite flavour packs...
posted by Auz at 10:48 AM on September 21, 2005


Look, the MREs are apparently being held up because of established US food safety regulations, not "red tape" as it's being characterized here. There is no law that allows the USDA to unilaterally suspend those laws in case of emergency, nor has the emergency (immediate hunger) been clearly established here. Countries should not be forced to accept aid they don't want.
posted by footnote at 11:20 AM on September 21, 2005


insert joke about British cuisine and "edible" here

Insert joke about dumb yanks who are too out of touch to realise how outdated such jokes are.


Oh, let them have their fun. The tired jokes about the UK are about bad food, bad teeth, and football hooliganism. The tired jokes about the US are that they're obese, unhealthy, die early, re-elect their kings, and are destroying the world. I know which crap jokes I'd prefer aimed at me.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:50 AM on September 21, 2005


Look, footnote, regardless of what your personal opinion about donating is, the fact is that no one was "forced to accept" anything here, the aid had been specifically agreed on, and yes of course it was an emergency otherwise no aid would have been requested and offered in the first place. Duh!

For some odd reason you keep treating this like it was a private, unrequited donation out of the blue, it so obviously wasn't, it was government to government. It has to be approved, how else do you think govt agencies know what to send and where? Put it in the post and tell DHL to please deliver to Americans in need?

Read the actual stories. The aid was shipped to Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville, which has been the hub for all international Katrina aid. 1,842 tons of goods of all kinds, not just food, from dozens of countries. You have the Defense Department and the State Department handling that in conjunction with the Foreign Offices and Ministries of Defense of the donating countries.

The problem arose when the Department of Agriculture applied the FDA regulations on the MRE's - once they were already inside the US - that contained beef whose import is restricted. So now according to FDA regulations those MRE's - not all aid, not even all food, only those rations with beef - has to be destroyed.

Someone should have thought about preventing that, because it was entirely preventable. If they already knew FDA rules would still apply even for aid, they could have made it clear before the stuff was shipped, so that something else could have been shipped instead of beef (like the vegetarian MRE's the FDA indeed cleared). Whose responsibility was it?

It is about red tape, more specifically about unpreparedness, disorganisation and miscommunication between different departments of the same government. It is not about refusing aid, because all the other aid that is not beef and has not been impounded by the Dept of Agriculture because of FDA laws has gone through perfectly fine.

Here's more on the international aid:

Katrina Victims Getting International Aid

Foreign aid keeps coming

Baby food from Israel, blankets from India - Hurricane Katrina Archive - MSNBC.com
posted by funambulist at 12:19 PM on September 21, 2005


funambulist,
They aren't listening to you, but I thank you for the links and reasoned arguments.
posted by Divine_Wino at 12:55 PM on September 21, 2005


So it's not a problem for Bush to rush through an executive order to lower wages for federal contractors and relax pollution controls, but some red tape related to imported food rules is a permanent stumbling block. That's just sad. Maybe if one of his friends stood to make a profit ...
posted by milovoo at 1:44 PM on September 21, 2005


From: http://www.interesting-people.org/archives/interesting-people/200509/msg00343.html

From the Sept. 10 London Times:


"But last night, five days after the first batches of aid arrived from Britain and after negotiations with the British Government, the agency waived the ban, paving the way for the food to be distributed to those who need it. "

"A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: “The United States Department of Agriculture has cleared ration packs for onward distribution. Meals from all EU member states have been cleared.” "

Further:
1) It was USDA, not FDA (which is part of DHHS and has no jurisdiction -- it simply can't do this). If the reporter can't get that fact right, especially when stating that "The FDA said ...", then I'd seriously question anything else.

2) The Mirror is an extremely unreliable source. This is a sensationalist tabloid, not any sort of reputable media. They make up stories and/or insert misinformation consistently in order to inflate subscriptions -- much the same way Rush Limbaugh does, just with a different political slant.

3) Note that the Times article never mentions incineration.


4) A quick Google search on "british food aid impounded" produces plenty of hits. Within the first two pages, the only ones that reference "incineration" or "burning" are mirrors of the mirror.co.uk article -- no other source appears. This, even though the Times had been fully willing to report the US bungling, and the MoD's furor, ten days before. (bungling = U.S. requested the aid, then USDA blocked it)

5) By the time this went out to IP, the issue had been resolved for ten days -- and, I suspect, all the food had already been eaten and fully digested.

Maybe that's where the article came from ...


Times article URL:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,23889-1773364,00.html


Yours,
Thomas Wicker

posted by turbodog at 2:53 PM on September 21, 2005


Someone should have thought about preventing that, because it was entirely preventable. If they already knew FDA rules would still apply even for aid, they could have made it clear before the stuff was shipped, so that something else could have been shipped instead of beef (like the vegetarian MRE's the FDA indeed cleared). Whose responsibility was it?

So that's all it comes down to, huh? The USDA following its own rules, plus some inter-agency lack of communication in the midst of a complicated relief effort, yeilding a result which at this point is totally unproven to have had actual deleterious effects on the hurricane survivors. Doesn't really seem like that big a deal to me, beyond the bad PR.

There are many, many questions yet to be answered about what happened with Katrina, and many people who should be held accountable. But this one incident just doesn't rank up there with my concerns, anyway.
posted by footnote at 4:00 PM on September 21, 2005


turbodog, thanks for that link to that Times article.

The Mirror is an extremely unreliable source. This is a sensationalist tabloid, not any sort of reputable media.

It's a tabloid and it has its slant but it didn't make this story up out of the blue. You also have an Associated Press story quoting the Dept of Agriculture spokeperson, that's dated yesterday 20 September, so it is after the Times article you quote, which is 10 September, and the two are not at all in contradiction, they are just published at different dates. The Times also quoted people from the UK Minister of Defense complaining about this, so the tone is not that different either, tabloid style or not.

So as of 10 September the story is "the agency waived the ban, paving the way for the food to be distributed to those who need it". It hadn't been distributed yet.

And it still is being held, according to reports, it's not just the Mirror saying it, it's the Associated Press, and interestingly in the latest few hours their story has been picked up by a lot more papers than just the two I'd found earlier, it's also in the Washington Post: British Rations Held Over Made Cow Fears. As of 5 hours ago, not ten days.
posted by funambulist at 5:29 PM on September 21, 2005


Huh. Why would MREs have beef in them? That just seems stupid.
posted by mrgrimm at 5:44 PM on September 21, 2005


footnote: the point is not your own personal concerns. Or mine for that matter. Or how much of a deal this is in the overall grand scheme of the response to Katrina and according to whom. It's still possible to be concerned by more than one thing at the same time, though. You don't even have to be directly concerned, to try and understand what is actually going on.

This is from the Times article turbodog linked:
One member of the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Logistics Organisation, which helped to organise the airlift, said: “Can you imagine how this is going down at our end? People were working their butts off on Sunday and Monday to make this happen. This aid wasn’t volunteered. The US asked for it.

“We moved heaven and earth to get this stuff out there. You don’t send half a million ration packs if you don’t think they’re going to be used.

The MoD estimates that the cost of supplying the meals was about £6 million.

A spokeswoman said: “The packs themselves cost £3 million to £4 million and the airlift cost around $4 million (£2.2 million).

“We responded as quickly as possible to a request from the US authorities following Hurricane Katrina — including specifically a request for emergency ration packs. Some of these packs have arrived on US soil and the handling of this is now a matter for the US authorities. It’s a matter for them if and how they distribute these packs.”
posted by funambulist at 5:47 PM on September 21, 2005


Hey thanks Divine_Wino, nice to know someone is paying attention to the actual story.

mrgrimm: Huh. Why would MREs have beef in them? That just seems stupid.

What was I saying...
posted by funambulist at 5:55 PM on September 21, 2005


funambulist: all that quote does is reconfirm that the biggest harm is to the US's international reputation (which I'm not saying is not something to be considered). According to turbodog's post, the MREs have been approved for release now anyway; this was just an apparently unreliable source (the Mirror) making a mountain out of a molehill.

I wouldn't be belaboring this point two days after the FPP except for that I believe it's crucially important to be judicious when it comes to assessing what happened with Katrina. If we cry wolf over non-events like this one, then we lose credibility and it starts to look like electoral jostling ("Bush sux") rather than an honest attempt at accountability and reform.
posted by footnote at 7:10 AM on September 22, 2005


I think it would be a very good idea that in future, The Mirror is described not as "an unreliable tabloid" but as "The British version of Weekly World News, aka 'the batboy paper.'"
posted by five fresh fish at 10:15 AM on September 22, 2005


footnote: you're wrong, the Times article turbodog linked to is dated 10 days before the latest Associated Press story that does report the aid still being held for that burocratic reason.

Forget the Mirror altogether if you like. Why are you ignoring the AP story, do you think they made that up too and all those papers who picked it up were fooled?

I wouldn't be belaboring this point two days after the FPP except for that I believe it's crucially important to be judicious when it comes to assessing what happened with Katrina. If we cry wolf over non-events like this one, then we lose credibility and it starts to look like electoral jostling ("Bush sux") rather than an honest attempt at accountability and reform.

"We" who? I am not a politician, I am not an American, and I am not even thinking of Bush here. I don't have an interest in this story for the sake of supposed Bush-bashing as you seem to imply, this is not about a presidential decision but a burocratic deadlock and it could well have happened under any other government for all we know, so that is irrelevant.

the biggest harm is to the US's international reputation (which I'm not saying is not something to be considered)

No, it is abundantly clear the US does not care about international reputation and it sure didn't take this story to make that clear. So let's just move that aside.
But this doesn't even involve just "reputation". It involves another government who spent $6 million to deliver that food that had been asked for. And it involves people who are not receiving it, according to those latest AP reports. I'm sure they have other food aid by now, but it is such a waste that could have been avoided.
posted by funambulist at 11:56 AM on September 22, 2005


A history of US Army Rations.
Why would there not be beef in MREs? It's the standard 'merican meal food. (or are you saying that it could just all be synthetic stuff at this point, which I agree might be a good idea)

I was also looking for a more worldwide history of rations, for example what are modern Japanese or Russian military rations like - if anyone has a good link, it would be interesting to compare.
posted by milovoo at 12:29 PM on September 22, 2005


footnote/funambulist: Er, no.

It was £6 million ... that's pounds. Equivalent to about US$11 million. A significantly stronger "fuck you" from America than you'd thought.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:23 PM on September 22, 2005


We'll all be relieved to learn that the rations are going to go to another needy nation. Thank goodness saner heads prevailed.

I also note there are signs CJD is on a sharp, sharp increase in Idaho, nine cases this year versus the usual one or two. BSE, pandemic, here we come! Those British cows might have been the least of our worries.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:36 PM on October 19, 2005


« Older Undersea images...  |  Cool gallery... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments