If there is anything more revealing about a government’s abuse of authority than being able to ignore accurate media exposure, it is being able to shrug off public condemnation from within government itself.
The Reagan government has taken this imperviousness to new depths. Government reports continue to pour out documenting reckless, wasteful and callous behavior and all that occasionally happens, in the worst cases, is the resignation of some culpable officials.
Consider the government reports evaluating Reagan’s food safety programs.
A high pile of recent General Accounting Office reports concludes that efforts to regulate pesticides in food are in shambles. Reagan’s agencies are not collecting the information they need to keep pesticide-contaminated foods off the market and apply sanctions to culpable firms. GAO reports on imported fruits and vegetables, with twice the violation rate for illegal pesticide residues as domestic produce, seem not to arouse any duties in the Executive branch.
The National Research Council, in its 1985 report, pointed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s system as inadequate to detect microbial contamination. USDA tests only 1 percent of carcasses for drug and other chemical residues.
A survey by the federal Centers for Disease Control linked contaminated fish and shellfish to 24% of the traceable outbreaks of food poisoning. That was in 1982. Today, there still is no mandatory federal fish inspection law and no Reagan support for one — notwithstanding recent demonstrations of serious lake and ocean pollution.
A devastating 1985 report by the House of Representatives’ Committee on Government Operations found that up to 90 percent of new animal drugs on the market were being sold illegally, having never been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This report produced the following indictment of FDA — that it lacks practical tests for detecting 70% of the drug residues in your food which USDA is responsible for monitoring, has failed to remove potentially unsafe animal drugs from the market and is unable to control the widespread, illegal sales of veterinary prescription drugs.
To make matters far more serious than neglect or indifferences, the Reagan government pushed through Congress in 1986 a law giving USDA discretion to stop continual inspection of meat processing factories. Now, for example, USDA inspectors may drop in on the plant twice a week instead of daily.
There is something effective which can be done about the millions of yearly foodborne illnesses, nine thousand fatalities and cumulative damage to people’s health which flow from harmful bacteria, invisible filth, dangerous pesticides, additives and residues of animal drugs.
Together with a number of local and national consumer groups, we are bringing to people’s attention the national safe food petition (copies available free from Americans For Safe Food, 1501 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036). We have declared the week of August 14th as “Safe Food Week” which will feature the release of factual materials and mailings to active individuals, groups and state and local consumer protection agencies.
Letters to George Bush and Michael Dukakis have been sent. We are asking these Presidential candidates to take explicit positions on what they want done to enforce existing food safety laws and to provide new protections, from better food testing, quicker recalls to encouragement of organic food production.
If people do not demand such stands to be taken, the closest Bush and Dukakis will get to the nation’s contaminated food problem is when they bite into a pork sausage or greasy hotdog at some recreation park on the campaign trail.