Saturday, May 05, 2007

Diedtra Henderson on Washington Journal

This is a post about food. The key link will be the archived record of today's Washington Journal which will not be available until tomorrow. An informative segment with Diedtra Henderson, staff writer with the Boston Globe, covered a range of topics including melamine and other contaminants in the food supply, how the FDA and USDA work, the impact of global markets on the domestic food supply and a rich spin off of other food related questions raised by call-in viewers.

May 14. Link is now up:
Go to
Washington Journal.

Scroll down to May 5, find the segment with Diedtra Henderson, 46 minutes. The link will not copy here.

Good luck with Real Player not timing out. I tried to follow up with a better post but I couldn't get the thing to play back longer than a few minutes without "timing out" and starting over. Too bad. She is excellent...clear, full of pertinent information and replying to well thought out questions with tons of information. This is a great listen and learn piece.

Rather than work from memory, I plan to wait until I can watch the segment again before putting together a post about it. Besides, I missed the first few minutes. Rarely do I find something on TV that makes me want to go back and see what I missed, but in this case I will. This young woman has done he homework and is working on a piece about pharmaceutical additives (antibiotics) in the food chain. The case in point is catfish imported from China and she expects to have the story ready for publication by Wednesday.

I'm not easily impressed with journalists unless I sense they are doing more than riding the crest of a topic du jour. In the case of Diedtra Henderson she drops phrases that tell me she has dug deep into her subject and ingested a lot more information than she can cover in the restricted space of an hour or so. For example, in response to a call-in question she said simply, regarding the FDA, that "they are not going to inspect their way out of this," meaning that the issue of food safety is a lot bigger than a single agency of government will be able to manage.

And she's correct. When imported products can be brought to North America cheaper than we can produce the same products at home, the arithmetic of business will outrun all other considerations and the efforts of government agencies will be left in the dust. She used the illustration of the e-coli crisis arising from the Jack-in-the-Box story in 1993, pointing out that no individual agency could take credit for resolving the problem. But thanks to immediate and effective reactions on the part of politicians and an aggressive public relations response by those involved the end result was an improvement in the food supply chain that impacted the whole industry. (I hate to admit it, but the threat of mammoth settlements from liability litigation also played a part. It seems the same threat of financial ruin may be one of the variables leading to the next step improving the safety of the food supply.)

I'm particularly interested in how the two biggest agencies charged with overseeing our food supply, the Food and Drug Administration and the US Department of Agriculture, divide their respective areas of concern. Thanks to the way the Lord has provided politicians with the sacred trust of protecting and worshiping the Free Market, these two agencies inspect by day and sleep by night with the businesses they are charged with monitoring. (I hope that doesn't reveal any bias on my part.) In the end I expect to find that individual states and local authorities will be the best hope for improvements. California often gets the spotlight in this regard, but other states are taking important steps to fill gaps in the federal system.

Another footnote: they brouoght up the T-word.
She called this case study a "roadmap for terrorists" who may want to do harm to great numbers of consumers while at the same time crippling large segments of the economy. In the case of melamine, an industrial chemical, the product got past whatever tests are in place because those tests were not looking for iondustial chemicals but nutrients. The "protein" test, for example, was actually looking for nitrogen because protein in foods is measured by the amount of nitrogen it supplies. Well, hello. Chinese suppliers knew what to do to make the test look better. Why bother add real meat when an industrial chemical gets the same results?

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