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Animal food recall — a state of sorry regulation

May 2, 2007

One of the multitudinous pet listservs I’m on has had a good in-depth soul search about what’s wrong with the way the pet food crisis is being handled. I wrote to one of the posters for permission (granted) to publish the following well-reasoned, articulate analysis. The author requests anonymous publication out of concern for being inundated with comments from the “vastness” of the web and adds, “I believe the facts can be fairly easily verified if any of your readers cares enough to do this…. It would be nice if even a few more people became more aware of these issues.”

Background leading up to this post: Another list member sent a letter to several manufacturers of animal food whose products have been recalled, expressing deep concern and taking them to task for responsibilities to customers. The member included the roster of company contacts to whom the letter was sent. And that’s what triggered this response on the listserv.

I think letters to the individual companies are an important first step. But if we expect to have real and lasting protection we must fix the root cause of the problem: the government agencies that were created to protect individuals (and animals, and the environment) have become puppets of multinational corporations. These government agencies now protect profit rather than people.

The most recent example: yesterday Julie MacDonald, a deputy assistant secretary in the Department of the Interior, resigned just one week before she was scheduled to testify before Congress regarding accusations that she violated the endangered species act and ‘doctored’ legitimate research reports to cover up data indicating that certain species had become endangered.

The FDA is now scrambling to do enough about the labeling and the testing of the animal and human food supply to give the appearance of being a legitimate agency. But it has long been known that the FDA receives such a huge percentage of its funding from drug companies and pesticide companies that it is hopelessly compromised. To my knowledge there are no longer any serious discussions about “fixing” the FDA; Discussions, when they take place at all, now look toward replacing it with a new government agency because it is so corrupt that it is no longer fixable. Think about that … an entire government agency that is so corrupt that it is no longer fixable!

For the past 6 years the government agencies that are supposed to be protecting us have been run by CEO’s on leave from the very industries they are supposedly regulating. Not that the problem just started six years ago but it did get several orders of magnitude bigger. At this point it is so out of control that unless people in this country get serious about taking rightful possession of their citizenship — with all the responsibilities that entails —- I wonder if we will even recognize this country in 10 years. For many years I believed that these ‘big issues’ were too complicated for me to understand; I had enough trouble running my own life without worrying about critically reading the news! But I was wrong. If we don’t utilize our right to civic engagement and to have a government of our choosing that meets our needs as citizens, someone else will fill that vacuum and run the government in the way that best serves THEIR interests.

I believe that the only real solution is for people to insist on public financing of elections and voting machines with paper-trails that reduce the risk of tampering. Until we have public financing of elections, our FDA, EPA, USDA, FTC, FCC etc will increasingly fail to protect us from lies on labels and a thousand other critical issues that we would never even think of … until something goes horribly wrong as it did in the contamination of pet food. Until we have public financing of elections, corporations will continue to wrest power and control away from human beings in this country and bend the law to their purposes, which put profit over people (and animals). Profit is a good thing, but not as a substitute for values, experience, wisdom and honest reverence for life and for the rule of law. Until *The People* finance elections, the richest 1% — the corporate elite — will pay for election campaigns. And they will demand control over the government officials whose election they bought and paid for. And they will get it, because otherwise they will refuse to pay for that person’s next election campaign and that person will not be re-elected.

Why is it that we have had Aspartame (NutraSweet) in our diet sodas for 20 years when the FDA ruled that it was unsafe? Donald Rumsfeld, then a chief executive at Searle (the drug company that made NutraSweet), swore he would get this ruling overturned. Soon after this, when Reagan became president, this ruling was indeed quietly overturned by Rumsfeld. What a lucky accident (?) that Aspartame decreases brain serotonin levels and that anti-depressants can then be used to increase serotonin levels. How much is NutraSweet consumption contribuing to the fact that antidepressants are one of the most frequently prescribed drugs in our country today? I don’t know, but in spite of the fact that aspartame accounts for the majority of comsumer complaints to the FDA, it appears that there isn’t much funding for research in this area.

Why is it that some other countries have banned — or are working toward banning — cosmetic lawn poisons (Roundup, Scotts Turf Builder etc) because long term exposure causes death, disease and birth defects in pets and people, while the US is still allowing millions of pounds of these poisons to be dumped on every square inch of our soil? These chemicals were *never* tested or intended to be used in urban areas or in the combinations that are now being sold. Yet, millions of Americans still believe that if these chemicals were “really” bad for us, the EPA would not allow them to be sold. Lawn herbicides are the new tobacco …

I feel very sad for the pets and people who were harmed by this debacle. I hope we can give this tragedy some meaning by allowing it to wake us up to the need for public financing of elections and increased civic involvement so that we can take back our government from industry lobbyists (Maine, Vermont, Arizona and Massachusetts have already passed “clean election” laws that provide some form of public financing for their *state* elections). We need to put the most *qualified*, knowledgeable, dedicated and ethical people into our government, not just the richest ones. We cannot trust corporations to police themselves. We need good and just laws. And we need functional, independent and unbiased regulatory agencies that have the means and the power to regulate, investigate and enforce the law.

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