Wednesday, August 3, 2011

on food and self-regulating industry

this op-ed in the Times - http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/02/when-big-food-makes-its-own-rules/?ref=opinion - highlights perhaps one of the strangest elements of american politics that has long gone unencumbered by both parties: the revolving door and closed feedback loop of those who should be regulated by those who were once or will someday soon be working for the very industries that are to be regulated. that is, the classic fox guarding the hen house model of government oversight.

this article takes our government to task over its weak rules and mild constraints against the food, primarily the fast food and kids' oriented food, industry and how they are allowed to both be represented at the table as well as be in control of the writing of the very rules that are supposed to provide guidance to their production and marketing. what if the oil industry were allowed to establish the rules for exploration, environmental management, and supply and demand of our nation's fossil fuel reserves? you think there'd be more holes in the ground any and every where with little regard for the environment during and after they were tapped? you think prices would be higher and their drilling fees lower? you think your cars would be getting any fuel efficiency? heck no. they'd be padding their wallets....oh, wait a minute; they are padding their wallets, and have very little regard and take very little responsibility to the larger issues faced by our people, our nation, and the global environment. fat chance they'd be so kind if there were teeth and guts behind the regs and the regulators themselves. but many if not most of them have worked for or will someday hope to work for the very industry they presumably regulate. furthermore, so long as our politicians are dependent on the largesse of such industrial giants, they will be sure to write the weakest of laws and finance the minimalist of regulators as to ensure the continued profits of these corporations.

the downside of this is highlighted in the food industry. what with crappy and unhealthy foods being produced and sold cheaper than healthy foods esp to kids and the underprivileged, our country is awash in obesity-related disease and lifestyle accommodations. while any one industry is not totally at fault for these circumstances, the depth and width of which are actually, not figuratively, killing people by the millions, without some government regulation, the food industry is getting off pretty light. when you can redefine obviously-unhealthy foods - damn near anything processed - as healthy, and the gov and regs look away, we are destined to stumble down the highway of heart disease, diabetes, and cancers for all.

but what to do about it? therein lies the conundrum. for if we really believe people are in their rights to choose how to live and eat, then putting out there for them foods that feel and taste good even if they offer nothing nutritionally is fulfilling a basic human right. and who'd deny an individual such a right, right?

but if we believe that each individual is entitled to this right, but then must take responsibility for the consequences of that right, then a public health policy is impossible to sustain; and a private-based health initiative should more precisely 'punish' those who have taken advantage of that right at the expense of those of us who have tried to live healthfully. it just does not seem fair to either let folks suffer and die needlessly so others can profit; nor does it seem fair to make those of us who watch what and how much we eat pay for the sins of gluttony and uncontrolled eating and sedentariness. but alas we do.

it's not easy but i do know this: the industry in this case should know the mission - public welfare- and be supported in supporting this mission, or financially penalized for seeking profits over well-being. i know - idealist if not socialist thinking. but isn't that better than just giving up?

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Dr.Irv