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Don't Blame Canada! America, Fuck Yeah!
January 30, 2009 4:30 AM   Subscribe

Maybe outsourcing is the answer. Canadian importers detected the salmonella tainted peanut products, and, prior to eight Americans dying from it, informed the US FDA. "The FDA failing to follow up after this incident, does that mean that products that are not good enough for a foreign country are still good enough for the USA? That's a double standard that has deadly consequences for our citizens."

What's especially troubling is that scores of American food producers who used the tainted peanut products, and our toothless FDA watchdogs, failed to notice what, apparently, a single Canadian importer was able to see.
posted by orthogonality (49 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well sure, they are keeping their citizens safe and healthy and are better educated and have better civil liberties. But at what moral cost, socialists? AT WHAT MORAL COST?
posted by DU at 4:41 AM on January 30, 2009 [16 favorites]


The FDA doesn't work for the public. It works for food and drug industries.

The FDA, working with Monsanto, is why we have a legal requirement that our milk reminds us that growth hormones are safe to intake, despite girls reaching puberty at an increasingly younger age.

The FDA, working with the largest beef producers in the country, is why smaller beef farms are prevented from testing for BSE. We'll find out how that works out over the next twenty years.

The FDA, working hand in hand with Merck, is why Vioxx passed clinical trials and made it to market, where it killed tens of thousands.

Basically, the FDA cannot be trusted with working in the public interest.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:43 AM on January 30, 2009 [25 favorites]


Yeah, Blazecock, you're on the mark with each example. But then some Libertarian's going to read that and start jumping up and down to abolish the FDA.

Yes, the FDA doesn't work for the people, but the solution is to reassert our control over the FDA.
posted by orthogonality at 4:50 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


...the solution is to reassert our control over the FDAgovernment
posted by DU at 4:56 AM on January 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


The solution is to abolish the mindset that profit is the ultimate goal of our corporations.
posted by oddman at 5:06 AM on January 30, 2009 [10 favorites]


In Canada, right now we're sort of hypersensitive to issues of tainted food, because of the press around the listeria incident at Maple Leaf (a big meat packer), so maybe the customer was being extra vigilant.

Even so, it sounds like the product was just plain nasty ("filthy, putrid or decomposed substance, or is otherwise unfit for food"), so maybe you just had to have one or two functioning eyes or a nose to conclude that the product was unfit...

Re BSE, maybe the beef farmers could stop feeding the beef on ground-up sheep?

Hopefully Pres. Obama can get to fixing the FDA before March.
posted by Artful Codger at 5:11 AM on January 30, 2009


Yes, the FDA doesn't work for the people, but the solution is to reassert our control over the FDA.

Guess we'll see how Obama walks the talk on respecting science.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:21 AM on January 30, 2009


is anyone working on in vitro peanut butter?
posted by JVA at 5:32 AM on January 30, 2009


The solution is to abolish the mindset that profit is the ultimate goal of our corporations.

Not going to happen.

The solution is to reconstitute the checks on corporate greed (which is a built-in factor) that the deregulators have demolished. That includes antitrust actions.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:38 AM on January 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


Corporations have evolved to compartmentalize decisions such that there is no morality inherent in their decision making process. Those corporations that have in the past acted conscientiously are gone now, replaced by more evolutionarily adapted corporations.
posted by vapidave at 5:40 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


New Look at Food Safety After Peanut Tainting .

Criminal Charges in Salmonella Outbreak?

And, if anyone ends up indicted and convicted of any wrongdoing, they'll be glad they're not in China -- Two Chinese Get Death Penalty for Tainted Milk Scandal.
posted by ericb at 5:50 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's not just the FDA. The peanut processing plant itself here in Georgia knew the product was contaminated, but rather than destroy the inventory and shut down production, they sent samples out to other testers until they got a clean result. The state Agriculture Department here turned the other way, and is now trying to pin it all on the processor.

This same ag department is telling growers at my farmers market who have five or six dozen eggs to sell that they need to go out and buy a refrigerated truck to legally carry their eggs to market (a requirement that's not actually in the regulations here) because someone might otherwise get sick. They're seemingly OK with a mega food plant shipping out lethal doses of bacteria, but lord save us from a few eggs laid by happy hens.
posted by ewagoner at 5:58 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


is anyone working on in vitro peanut butter?

Yes, but the damn stuff keeps crawling out of the test tube and infecting my toast.
posted by rand at 6:10 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Not going to happen.

Why not? Today's robber barons seem less rapacious than those of yore. And even if they aren't less rapacious, they are more circumspect, which at least indicates they are prone to social pressures.

Which is not at all to say I'm opposed to regulations. Quite the opposite. In fact, regulations are probably the way to change the mindset. The cycle is:

1) Rapacity - they do what they want
2) Regulation - they are prevented
3) Regret - a new generation grows up thinking the old ways are Evil
4) "Reform" - "we know that stuff is evil, so if you deregulate the evil stuff won't come back"
5) Repeat - back where we started
posted by DU at 6:15 AM on January 30, 2009


Ugh. Eggs at a farmers market don't need to be refrigerated. Our CSA delivery sometimes includes eggs, and the boxes spend the afternoon out doors on a covered patio. No traceable illnesses yet.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 6:17 AM on January 30, 2009


Go Canada!
posted by chunking express at 6:19 AM on January 30, 2009


1) Rapacity - they do what they want
2) Regulation - they are prevented
3) Regret - a new generation grows up thinking the old ways are Evil
4) "Reform" - "we know that stuff is evil, so if you deregulate the evil stuff won't come back"
5) Repeat - back where we started


If you change rapacity to avarice, then you can all it the ARRRR! cycle and tie in pirates.

Guess we'll see how Obama walks the talk on respecting science.

Don't you know that the FDA stances on growth hormones, BSE, and many other things are backed by "science" and "studies?" Until the level of public awareness matches the awareness of, say, climate change (a couple of decades from now, possibly after the rise of mutants and/or zombies), nothing will happen.
posted by Krrrlson at 6:29 AM on January 30, 2009


The solution is to abolish the mindset that profit is the ultimate goal of our corporations.
posted by oddman at 1:06 PM on January 30 [4 favorites +] [!]


It's not a mindset, it's a structural imperative. Corporations exist to maximise shareholder profit, that is their sole purpose.

Changing the structure is the way forward. Strict regulation is a step in the right direction.
posted by knapah at 6:40 AM on January 30, 2009


I'm slightly confused from the phrasing of the FPP and the article - was the salmonella itself detected or was it that the rejected shipment was "filthy, putrid or decomposed substance, or otherwise unfit for food"? The difference being that a salmonella outbreak seems significantly more serious and worthy of being chased back to source rather than something being obviously "filthy, putrid etc" which could be investigated by the company itself.
posted by patricio at 6:43 AM on January 30, 2009


The solution is to abolish the mindset that profit is the ultimate goal of our corporations.

I don't mind profit being the ultimate goal of our corporations -- after all, i likes me some money too -- but we absolutely have to do something about the "profit no matter what: fuck the law, fuck the people, fuck the environment, fuck the future" mindset of the larger companies.
posted by lord_wolf at 6:43 AM on January 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


"our milk reminds us that growth hormones are safe to intake, despite girls reaching puberty at an increasingly younger age."
Can you give a pointer to research that shows higher levels of growth hormones in food being the cause of girls reaching puberty younger?
posted by edd at 6:46 AM on January 30, 2009


It's not a mindset, it's a structural imperative.

It is the mindset that's the problem. There is no "public interest" anymore - just the result the conservatives have aimed for for the last 35 years. Looking out for the common good is weakness; God helps those what help themselves.

Corporate America has shit on our collective dinner plates so many times we have acquired a taste for feces. Unbridled, unregulated corporate rapaciousness is way more of a threat to our union than terrorism will ever be.

If Teddy Roosevelt could see that more than a hundred years ago, why are we in this boat now?

Corporations exist to maximise shareholder profit, that is their sole purpose.

When I was in college in the late seventies (I have a Marketing degree), I had a brilliant, very long-haired professor who I thought I looked up to. When this concept turned into a week-long argument between he and I - you can probably guess who was on which side - I realized that modern corporate business is truly the enemy of the people. Nothing in the last 25 years has happened to change my opinion.

Our cult of mover-and-shaker worship has to end. No one has any power that they are not given.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:02 AM on January 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


See, Reagan was right! Government is the problem!
posted by you just lost the game at 7:05 AM on January 30, 2009


Corporations exist to maximise shareholder profit, that is their sole purpose.

This is repeated frequently, but frankly it seems more like they exist to enrich the senior staff, and if the stock price should happen to go up as a consequence, then that's just swell.

If their sole purpose were to enrich shareholders, seems like we'd see a lot more dividends being paid and a lot fewer cash bonuses & golden parachutes being doled out. Shareholders, having grown lazy by virtue of inflated share prices, have utterly failed to enforce discipline in the boardroom.

Incidentally, one simple (brutal) solution to food contamination problems: if the shipments from any company are found to be contaminated, the entire executive staff are forcibly exposed to that contamination. Salmonella in your peanut butter? Line 'em up, grab some swabs, and let them enjoy the delicate flavor and subtle aroma of Salmonella cultures. Mmm, just the hint of agar!
posted by aramaic at 7:08 AM on January 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


patricio -

My understanding is that the company actually detected salmonella in 2007 and 2008, did nothing and continued to ship their products (no mention of putrid, rotten foods, just a little extra...growth). No cleaning of equipment, no isolation of infections, or recall of products, until they go caught this time. What they did do was go 'lab shopping' to find a lab that would give them a negative for salmonella contamination vs. the lab that was giving them positive tests. I think I saw this in a CNN article, now I can't find the damn thing to reference.
posted by rand at 7:11 AM on January 30, 2009


is anyone working on in vitro peanut butter?

The same factory with the salmonella peanut butter is probably coming up with a "chunky" variety that comes with shards of glass.
posted by jonp72 at 7:11 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]



The same factory with the salmonella peanut butter is probably coming up with a "chunky" variety that comes with shards of glass.

Those are prizes!
posted by Dark Messiah at 7:14 AM on January 30, 2009


but we absolutely have to do something about the "profit no matter what: fuck the law, fuck the people, fuck the environment, fuck the future" mindset of the larger companies

Indeed. What the "Regulation of business is BAD!!!" crowd doesn't realize is that an unregulated system is inherently unstable. You must have some sort of negative feedback built in or it starts to run away and everything explodes. You see it in nature in the issues with "invasive species". The whole Chernobyl incident was caused by the failure of the negative feedback in the system (provided by the operators). Those are just off the top of my head; there are countless other examples (the whole current financial thing, etc). How someone can look at the examples, and then turn around and say "Can't put any damper on how business is conducted" is kind of disturbing.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:16 AM on January 30, 2009


The FDA doesn't work for the public. It works for food and drug industries.

Can you explain this to the next auditor who demands we put a strip chart recorder on a hot water bath we use for about 15 minutes once a week or so. I know it won't do any good, but we could look back on it and laugh as we archived that "vital data" for the next how ever many years.

In all seriousness, the issues have a lot to do with the creation of lots of poorly reasoned policies (because, hey, we're doing something, look at these policies), the mindset that the letter of the law is more important than the spirit of the law, and a massive gutting of the auditor force for cost reductions reasons.

If you know anything about computer systems, for example, read up on 21CFR11. I've heard it argued, in all seriousness, that defraging a hard drive was no different than going back and changing your data to say what you want it to say. You don't have to see too many thousand man hours wasted on this kind of insanity before you wonder what things are being ignored so attention can be paid to whether our not your ones and zeros are FDA approved ones and zeros.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:18 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd say the solution is change the rules so that universities & medical school labs could carry out 100% of drug development, while leaving the generic drug companies to produce & market the product off patent. Specifically :

(1) You increase NIH, NSF, etc. funding with the idea that analysis of manufacturing processes, clinical trials, etc. can now be funded too, thus brining universities into the last mile of clinical development, cutting out the drug companies, and also providing way more money for analysis of other safety issues.

(2) You change NSF & NIH rules so that patents produced from government funded research should become "national open patents", meaning anyone may use them so long as the work takes place inside the U.S. You presumably don't allow importation of products infringing upon those patents, except when both nations can reach some arrangement.

You'd see far more important drugs developed this way because university professors could push through the complete approval process without worrying about marketability---their reward is being assured of future grants because they succeeded once or twice. Pharmaceutical companies would still develop highly profitable drugs like viagra & such, but you'd now have an army of university labs with the funding to conduct additional clinical trials.

You obviously won't solve recurrent testing issues, like the peanut butter, this way, but you'd have more scientists & lab techs overall, more investigation of industrial processes, etc.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:43 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Not going to happen.

Why not? Today's robber barons seem less rapacious than those of yore. And even if they aren't less rapacious, they are more circumspect, which at least indicates they are prone to social pressures.


Those of yore had no idea that government regulation of their rapacity was a possibility. Any circumspection exhibited by today's robbers is prompted by their knowledge that regulation could still bite them in the ass if the wrong people in the government decided to make it happen. If that's what you mean by 'social pressures,' then OK - but I don't think that's what you mean. Executives like those who run Peanut Corp. of America clearly are not concerned with public opinion (which is what I would mean by 'social pressure'), except so far as it makes the government punish them.

If only in the interest of efficiency, it's better if the government makes them clean up before the public has a chance to get upset and exert social pressure.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:58 AM on January 30, 2009


in light of this it makes congress' foaming at the mouth about re-importing "unsafe" prescription drugs from Canada seem a bit... well silly.
posted by edgeways at 8:27 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


"is anyone working on in vitro peanut butter?"

One guy was, but as he was hurrying around a corner carrying the container, he bumped into the guy that was working on in vitro chocolate - who just happened to be carrying his container, and now they're two great tastes that taste great together.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 8:28 AM on January 30, 2009


This salmonella outbreak comes at an excellent time for the local food movement. People are already going local in significant numbers. Maybe this will encourage more people to eat less of products whose ingredients are sourced from all over the place and processed in dozens of different ways.
posted by gurple at 8:56 AM on January 30, 2009


Let me attempt to summarize this article, because I had to read it thrice:

1) Canada rejected the peanuts in April of 2008. It's not clear whether this was a regulatory body or the customer, presumably it was the former.
2) The peanuts were rejected because they contained a "filthy, putrid or decomposed substance"; no mention of salmonella.
3) The peanut company apparently tried to produce test results that showed the peanuts were OK. The FDA rejected those results because the lab company's work was obviously shoddy (likely because this peanut company has a habit of "lab shopping").
4) The peanuts were then destroyed.
5) So now it turns out that that same peanut company was selling salmonella-contaminated peanuts. People want to point at the earlier incident in April '08 and say the FDA should have known about the salmonella, BUT there was no mention of salmonella at that time. I can only guess people are expecting the FDA to investigate every food product for any possible contamination every time there is any kind of reported violation. This is literally impossible.

Shorter version: the FDA had some peanuts destroyed last year.
posted by Nahum Tate at 8:59 AM on January 30, 2009


This reminds me of the 'gyoza' dumplings that were made in China and sold in Japan last year and poisoned over 400 people in Japan. Those dumplings were not salable in Japan, so the Chinese company took off the Japanese packaging, made new packaging in Chinese and sold them in China: Recalled gyoza sold in China.

Trust me when I tell you not to buy anything from Tianyang Food 天洋食品, as they clearly care more about profits than about poisoning people that eat their product.
posted by gen at 9:09 AM on January 30, 2009


@jeffburdges
"I'd say the solution is change the rules so that universities & medical school labs could carry out 100% of drug development, while leaving the generic drug companies to produce & market the product off patent."

How many innovatice drugs did the Sowjet union develope with this approach in 40 years?
posted by yoyo_nyc at 9:18 AM on January 30, 2009


I wonder if all the growth hormones fed to livestock gets passed on to fat people - the metabolism of the animal is changed so that they grow bigger.
posted by Bitter soylent at 9:50 AM on January 30, 2009


Isn't there still an import ban on Canadian beef to the US because we test our cattle for BSE where the US doesn't?

Note to self: keep buying the $30/lb grass-fed stuff at the farmers market.
posted by GuyZero at 9:55 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


A little gem from Calvin and Hobbes:

“architects should be forced to live in the buildings they design, and children's book authors should be forced to read their stories aloud every single night of their rotten lives.”

We won't have this problem if the peanut butter CEOs use their own products! :)
posted by 7life at 10:17 AM on January 30, 2009


I wonder if all the growth hormones fed to livestock gets passed on to fat people - the metabolism of the animal is changed so that they grow bigger.

If rBST actually did have any effect on humans, it would make them thinner, not fatter. I'd be much more worried about the IGF-1 in the milk than the rBST. But I doubt it's really an issue given the amount in milk.

I'd say the solution is change the rules so that universities & medical school labs could carry out 100% of drug development, while leaving the generic drug companies to produce & market the product off patent.

Do you have any idea how expensive drug development is? I'd much rather private investors cover the cost than my tax dollars. Also, if you had ever worked in an academic lab you'd realize how much less efficient they can be compared to a corporate lab. They sure as hell don't pay their scientists very well, either.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 10:38 AM on January 30, 2009


This is repeated frequently, but frankly it seems more like they exist to enrich the senior staff, and if the stock price should happen to go up as a consequence, then that's just swell.

As you say, the old saw about "maximizing shareholder profit" is repeated frequently, but it's patently dishonest. If it were true, corporations would be legally compelled to maximize the return of profits in the form of dividends to their shareholders, but they aren't. They're free to use as much of the profits as they like on executive compensation instead of returning it to the shareholders, to simply keep the profits, or even to suspend dividend payments entirely. And in fact, driving up share prices doesn't offer any realized profit to a company's shareholders (since the only way to reap a return on increased share price is by selling the stock, which makes the seller in fact not a shareholder at all).

It's also not necessarily true that:

It's not a mindset, it's a structural imperative. Corporations exist to maximise shareholder profit, that is their sole purpose.

The corporate charter determines the extent to which this is or isn't true. There are also for profit and not for profit corporations (like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting) that explicitly adopt public service missions.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:43 AM on January 30, 2009


Also, if you had ever worked in an academic lab you'd realize how much less efficient they can be compared to a corporate lab.

Well, maybe in your experience, but when it came to the race to map the human genome, the private labs and public labs finished in a dead heat, and despite all the fanfare around the x-prizes, or whatever, there's yet to be a single private firm capable of reproducing NASA's feat of true space flight--much less putting a man on the moon and bringing him back alive--so I'll continue being skeptical of such assertions, if you don't mind.

posted by saulgoodman at 10:51 AM on January 30, 2009


I wonder if lack of confidence in the food supply has been quantified to any extent. Personally, all the stink with BSE testing bans and E. coli recalls (fecal bacteria in commercial meat!) has driven us strongly towards supporting local co-ops. We haven't bought supermarket beef since 2003.
posted by crapmatic at 11:39 AM on January 30, 2009


much less putting a man on the moon and bringing him back alive--so I'll continue being skeptical of such assertions, if you don't mind

In fairness to Heinlein-wannabes, there is a UN ban on commercial activity on the moon. Most businesses aren't that interested in breaking the law. Plus the buzz about low-g material manufacturing hasn't really ever come to pass, my research budgeting in Project Space Station notwithstanding.

Anyway, drug research can be a profit-making business and unless you're going to ban it outright it will always remain a commercial activity. The issue is balancing public good with return on investment and putting public money into unprofitable avenues of research (e.g malaria vaccines)
posted by GuyZero at 12:02 PM on January 30, 2009


The solution is to abolish the mindset that profit is the ultimate goal of our corporations.

Profitability and morality are frequently diametrically opposite choices for corporations. As a free market society, perhaps we should strive to make profitability moral, and morality profitable.
posted by terranova at 12:06 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm allergic to peanuts. Peanut butter has never been safe for me, thankyouverymuch. Forgive me if I display a little schadenfreude toward you peanutheads. <Nelson> Ha Ha! </Nelson>
posted by wendell at 2:39 PM on January 30, 2009


Our Melamine: There's Mercury in High Fructose Corn Syrup, and the FDA Has Known for Years
posted by homunculus at 3:37 PM on January 30, 2009


yoyo_nyc, nice try for the communist scare, but it won't work. I never suggested preventing private drug development, merely that public intellectual property should remain in the public sphere, and there should be an NIH grant framework for developing drugs in the public sphere.

I doubt this would seriously impact the development of profitable drugs, except when the universities got there first, when it would merely insure that labor was carried out inside the U.S. Otoh, it would radically improve the development odds for drugs that matter but aren't obviously profitable.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:35 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


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