Friday, December 19, 2014

Who will "supervise" the supervisors- A dangerous regulatory system!

Is accepting "hospitality" from the industry one is supposed to supervise an acceptable practice from an ethical angle? It depends on what is meant by the word hospitality. According the English dictionary it denotes the relationship between the host and a guest and may involve "friendly reception and generous entertainment" . Here again there is ambiguity regarding reception and what type of entertainment is provided. One thing is clear that a government employee or a person contracted to inspect food processing facility cannot be considered a guest since it is a part of a regulatory system where "quid pro" considerations are irrelevant. How sincere a person can be in accepting hospitality from a company where he has been deputed to find whether safety norms are scrupulously followed  or not? It is like giving a judiciary functionary hospitality probably to get a favorable judgment from him which is blasphemy! This is what is happening with US Department of Agriculture whose personnel deputed to over see safety of processing facilities at different places are reported to be allowed to accept hospitality from the company supposed to be hauled up for violations! How trustworthy could that system be and how can consumers repose confidence in such a system, especially at a time when there is a backlash against many questionable practices by the industry being reported in that country? Read the report below and feel how sad such a situation can be when it comes to the common man who trusts the government to protect his health through powers conferred on it. 

Critics refer to the phenomenon as "regulatory capture" — when government inspectors become overly influenced by the industry they regulate. While the accusation is lobbed at many federal agencies, some say USDA is especially vulnerable because it's charged with enforcing the law at facilities that also pay for its services."It's a risk USDA would be more prone to that sort of capture," said Sebastien Pouliet, an Iowa State University economics professor who specializes in food safety. Unlike the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the USDA provides grading, certification and verification services intended to improve agricultural companies' marketing of a variety of farm products, he said. In effect, these processors are the USDA's customers, Pouliet said. "There's sort of a conflict of interest." USDA's Office of Communications did not respond to several requests for comment. More than 2,000 employees of the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service grade, audit, certify and inspect $150 billion worth of food a year. USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service employs more than 8,000 people who inspect about 150 million livestock carcasses and 9 billion poultry carcasses a year. In the case of Snokist Growers, the company hired the Agricultural Marketing Service to grade its canned applesauce so the product could be used in school lunches and USDA food programs. Alguard said she and other inspectors were told to prevent the old applesauce from being sold to USDA, but to disregard the problem in Snokist's products intended for the public. "My boss wanted to keep them happy," she said. "He's there to keep the income flowing into his office so he can stay employed." The applesauce policy contravened an agreement the agency had with FDA to report food safety issues, she said. In 2011, some school children were sickened by Snokist Growers' applesauce, which prompted an investigation by FDA. The illness turned out to be caused by defective cans that allowed pathogens to survive, but Alguard said she told FDA inspectors that moldy bins of applesauce were regularly being reprocessed when they showed up at the plant. "I just knew it was my chance because my boss wasn't going to do anything about it," she said. "They were stunned, to say the least."The FDA's investigation concluded that the mold released toxins into the applesauce that could cause health problems even if the product was heated during canning.

One of the reasons for such undesirable practices creeping into the regulatory system is the onus put on the industry to pay for the expenses of inspectors deputed as the government claims it has no money to meet such expenditure! Is it not a pity that World's most powerful country has no money to spend on citizen's safety vis-a--vis food processed and marketed in the country but spends trillions of dollars on arms race, space exploration and dominating other countries. This is a country where life style diseases like Obesity, Diabetes, Heart Disease are widely prevalent and the country has no money for dealing with these scourges! Some of undesirable practices being followed by the industry resulting in millions of food poisoning incidences can be attributed to this sham of a process called "inspection". Unfortunately most of the law makers in that country are captives of the powerful industry which sabotages any thing coming from the government intended to safe guard the interests of the citizen! Can any one solve this mega puzzle?


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