Monday, July 28, 2008

FDA, Or Federal Destruction Administration, Wrong On Peppers

Well, they did it again. The bureaucrats at the Food and Drug Administration, which should be re-named the Federal Destruction Administration, have embarked on yet another mission to wipe out an industry, and with it, thousands more jobs.

First, they diced the tomato industry under the guise of "science" by declaring that fruit to be the culprit behind the nationwide salmonella outbreak that sickened over 1,000 people in 42 states. They issued a list of certain tomatoes from states and countries that they said were safe to eat, and, conversely, warned against consuming other kinds grown in areas that were deemed harmful. The only problem was that the FDA had no idea - not a clue - as to where the salmonella originated and, even worse, what fruit or vegetable was the carrier. Tomatoes became the convenient scapegoat of the day.

Dr. David Acheson, the FDA's associate commissioner for Foods, arrogantly stated that "the science led us to believe strong association with tomatoes. We stand behind that science that set us on the tomato track to begin with." But he added that science "changes; it evolves, and we have to evolve with it."

Since the good doctor has a British accent, he must be right. After all, Americans always give more credibility to someone with an accent. Just look at all the British judges on our dancing and singing shows.

But this time, he's flat out wrong. Wrong in his assessment, wrong in his judgment, and wrong for his hubris.

The science wasn't wrong, and it didn't "evolve." It simply didn't prove anything. But the FDA jumped the gun anyway, so as to not look bad, and, in the process, wreaked destruction on thousands of livelihoods. But don't expect an apology or government compensation anytime soon. The FDA sees nothing wrong in what it did, and is continuing its slash-and-burn course.

Not finding a trace of salmonella on over 1,700 tomatoes tested, they shifted gears and decided to sear the pepper industry, specifically the growers of the serrano and jalapeno varieties. At first, this was just a whimsical guess masked as evolving science. But alas, a single pepper was found to have a strain of salmonella. So the devastation of the pepper industry is now justified in their eyes.

The problem, once again, is that their "discovery" proves absolutely nothing. The agency itself admits that the salmonella could have come from a number of sources, instead of from a pepper farm. Maybe it came from contaminated water at the washing station, or one of the shipping boxes. Or it touched another vegetable with salmonella. Given that there are so many variables involved, it is preposterous to throw blame on yet another industry without a much more thorough investigation showing conclusive results.

Even now, the FDA states that peppers as the source do not explain all of the cases, in the exact way that tomatoes didn't either. The salmonella may have just miraculously warped itself from one kind of produce to another. Way to cover your derriere.

The burning questions remain: After wiping out thousands of jobs and inflicting well over half a billion dollars damage to the tomato industry, with no proof that tomatoes were even involved, how can it do the same thing to the pepper industry? Why is no one calling them on these un-American scare-and-destroy tactics? And as a side-note, by ringing a false alarm yet again, the FDA is dangerously close to becoming the Boy Who Cried Wolf.

The FDA must be reigned in, and its "accuse first and look for facts later" tactics halted immediately. The era of McCarthyism is supposed to be over.

Chris Freind can be reached at

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