Sunday, April 21, 2013

The FDA Wants You

My weekly email digest from the Food and Drug Administration had a couple interesting things. One is about chocolate milk labeling. The producers (the large dairies) want the FDA to do away with chocolate milk labeling. They claim that "labels such as “reduced calorie” or “no added sugar” are a turn-off to kids who might otherwise reach for flavored milk with non-nutritive (artificial) sweeteners at the school cafeteria or from the grocery store cooler."

The FDA invites your input on the change the producers are petitioning for.

The digest also talks about a new office in the FDA, the Office of Minority Health (OMH), and says, "The office was established in 2010 by the Affordable Care Act to help the agency address the needs of Americans who may be more vulnerable because of their race, ethnicity or other factors."

In other words, it's part of Obamacare, and it seeks to address some longstanding issues in the American health care system. The digest talks about how different health issues affect different populations disproportionately. African Americans are more prone to heart disease. Hispanics are more prone to diabetes, as are Native women. OMH is doing a number of things to counter this, such as sponsoring university research, and recruiting people from these populations to sit on its advisory boards.

I know from my reading over the years that one of the reasons some people have not been getting proper health care is not just because they are poor, but, because of the way research has been conducted, they have simply been overlooked. This kind of subtle discrimination has sometimes been gender based, and often racially based. It was the reason that for a long time sickle cell anemia was not seen as a public health problem. African Americans, the group almost exclusively affected by it, simply weren't included in public health surveys.

One reason I like these FDA updates is that it's a reminder of the ways in which government is a force for good in our lives. There could be more FDA inspectors and better labeling. It'd be better if the political system wasn't rigged to favor big business, including big agribusiness, but at least when we eat something we have a pretty good idea of what it is, how old it is, what's been added to it and whether it's got crap in it designed to cover up the rotten taste. We don't have to trust some corporation that hates labeling and hates anything except profit.

Jim Baca has a nice essay today on how government inspections and the lack of them affect our safety. He mentions the fertilizer plant in Texas that blew up this week, killing at least 15 people and doing millions in damage, that hadn't been inspected in 28 years.

I was reminded of a paper mill in Louisiana I delivered scrap paper to. You opened your trailer doors and backed your whole rig up a big ramp about two stories high, onto a steel framed platform and backed it up against some big steel poles. An operator in a little room then made the whole platform tilt up so that everything slid out of the trailer and into a big chute that carried the scrap paper into the mill.

You of course had to get out of the truck while it was being dumped. You stepped onto a catwalk and followed it around the truck, down some stairs onto another catwalk that led to the little operator's room, where you waited in a chair behind the operator while he dumped your load. The only problem was that some of the catwalk had side railings and some of it didn't. The railings had just fallen off over the years, and it was night time, and you could easily have walked off the end of one of the catwalks to your ultimate doom. There obviously hadn't been any OSHA inspectors at that mill in a long time.
People who bad mouth government and want government to get off the back of business don't really know what government does to improve our lives, or, as in the case of Republican politicians, they know, but they know they can gain political power by badmouthing government. They know that many people are either too damn stupid to know they're being lied to, or are so bitter and jealous and dissatisfied with their own small lives that they'll join in a attack on just about anyone, even if it hurts themselves.

So what about Democrats? Do they not understand human nature?

If they do, they are still left with making the more difficult case. It's not as easy to appeal to peoples' rational thinking minds and to their "good" sides, the part of them that is naturally communal and social, the part that makes people tend to want to take care of each other.

And of course it doesn't help that they have gone down that other path, with the Republicans, too far and for too long. They have conceded to the notion that government must be reduced and that inspectors and researchers have to be laid off. When they have had a chance to stand up for working people, by, to give one example, fighting for the Employee Free Choice Act, they were too cowardly to do it. They thought about their own futures instead of ours.

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