Tainted Meat

October 3, 2009

A very nice bit of video reporting from the New York Times:


Here’s the accompanying article:


“I ask myself every day, ‘Why me?’ and ‘Why from a hamburger?’ ”Ms. Smith said. In the simplest terms, she ran out of luck in a food-safety game of chance whose rules and risks are not widely known.



  1. Ben, care to be more precise about what you find disturbing?

    That we all run more risks than we know of? That government regulation hasn`t made us safe? That firms don`t disclose all risks to consumers? That firms facing competition to deliver products inexpensively sometimes cut corners in a way that generates risk? Or that we moan over small risks while people on the other side of the globe starve?

    • That a young dance instructor took ill and is now paralyzed and brain damaged from eating a hamburger?

      • Sure, that`s a tragedy, Ben. But do you plan to post a comment a minute about all of them, or only the ones you think we should try to guess at what you`re thinking?

      • Certainly not. I plan to post links to articles that I think offer provocative insights into issues that are interesting to me and other people working in environmental policy.

    • This is an absolute ridiculous statement on so many levels.

      Firms facing competition to produce products inexpensively? Give me a break. Costco tests all of their product before grinding and sells ground beef as cheap or cheaper than anywhere else.

      I find it remarkably disturbing the entrenched system that appears to be fighting against proper testing. Slaughterhouses not selling to someone because they’re running their own independent tests on the product? That in and of itself should be criminal and trigger some sort of anti-trust investigation into the entire industry. No entity or group of entities should be able to legally bully their customers into risky behavior.

      • I`m with you, Scott; let`s use government fiat to insist that the world be perfect, so that none of us has to worry about risk.

        It worked with our financial system (Madoff, etc.); next stop, beef!

        And if anything goes wrong, it must simply mean that our blizzard of paper is too thin, and our army of bureaucrats, prosecutors, judges and jailors is understaffed!

      • More seriously, Scott, the behavior you refer to IS disturbing.

        But we should not forget that there`s market opportunity in the bad behavior of rivals, as well in providing safer and products, and a career to be made in useful muckracking.

        The real problem here is one of information; government can certainly help to make information available.

  2. Eli believes that Upton Sinclair has something to say about this roughly 100 years ago.

    The systematic rollback of food safety inspection in the last 30 or so years, the “privitization” of inspections and the “trust” the food processors have demanded are having predictable results. Small government is not always your friend, big government is not always your enemy and food processors are not to be trusted without strong verification. The food chain is less safe today

    • Eli, the larger the regulatory field, the greater room for mischief between dominant players (who seek to lock out smaller rivals) and lawmakers/bureaucrats, and the more consumers wrongly think that a god-like government is making them safe.

      • There is another issue Tom. I agree that the government cannot guarantee absolute safety, but does a larger government presence on average yield a safer outcome, and, more to the point, what is the marginal cost and safety for each level of regulation.

    • Eli, a larger government tends to entice more corporations to try to win favor from government, rather than to win favor with customers. Isn`t this fairly easy to see now in the whole food regulatory system, which favors large (industrial) producers over small, and handicaps consumer preferences for organic meat and produce?

      Politicians and regulators never have perfect information; as a result regulation wrongly makes consumers feel safer than they are. The government could be more effective simply by providing more information to the market/consumer groups.

      • Tom, I think that is a rather cramped interpretations. With food, what consumers mostly want is cheap. That’s what the large processors give them. There is a part of the market that wants quality, and is willing to pay for it, but cheap rules. The costs of cheap are episodic and soon forgotten except for the mourners. Government’s role is to keep the number of bereaved low cause the market ain’t gonna do it.

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