WE THE GOVERNMENT


There is a mouse problem at the barn where my wife spends a week or two every month with her horses.  Much as she loves animals, she does not want mice eating the feed, and there are too few cats there for too many mice.

When she went to the local feed store, looking for a certain poison, the clerk told her it was no longer present.  “The government won’t let you have it any more,” the man said,

“We are the government,” my wife replied.

The reason for not selling the poison is that we discovered that mice killed by it became food for raptors, which died after eating the carrion.  We banned DDT in 1972, because it concentrated in the fat of eagles, made their eggshells thinner, breaking before hatching.  After we stopped using DDT, the population recovered.  You didn’t think manufacturers of DDT were going to voluntarily stop selling it, did you?  That’s Ayn Rand’s world, not mine.  We took lead out of paint in 1978 because it is a neurotoxin, especially in children.  We used to have leaded gasoline.  Cars back then ran better with tetraethyl lead, but they run better now with unleaded gas.  California banned lead in gasoline in 1992, the rest of the country in 1996.  The percent of children with high lead levels has decreased from 7.6% to 0.5% since 1997.  That’s not due to the oil or auto industry demanding the removal of lead from gasoline. That is we the government, we the people, telling them to do so, improving public health.

Oh, Robert Kehoe, medical head of the Ethyl Corporation, helped keep lead in gasoline for 40 years.  In 1943, when research showed that children with elevated blood lead levels had behavioral disorders, the powerful corporation threatened to sue and the research stopped.  Kehoe argued lead occurs naturally, the body could deal with it, and thresholds for lead toxicity were far above what body levels were. That sounds a lot like arguments I hear against global warming.  In fact, Kehoe’s upper limits for lead toxicity were 80 micrograms/100ml, when current upper limits survived Reagan’s anti-regulation policy and are 10 micrograms/100ml.   We have smarter kids and maybe less crime, since there is a remarkable correlation between per cent with high lead levels and crime rates.

In 1937, S.E. Massengill Company marketed Elixir Sulfanilamide without alcohol.  Their chemist dissolved the product in diethylene glycol (DEG) (similar to antifreeze) and added raspberry flavoring.  DEG causes kidney failure, but in 1937, few, including the chemist, knew that. One hundred seven died, many of them children, and the outcry caused Congress to pass the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which required companies to perform animal safety tests on proposed new drugs and submit the data to the FDA before being allowed to market the products.  Massengill said, “We have been supplying a legitimate professional demand and not once could have foreseen the unlooked-for results. I do not feel that there was any responsibility on our part.” The chemist felt differently.  He committed suicide before trial.

A young researcher, Frances Kelsey, was involved in the DEG studies.  Dr. Kelsey later stopped the use of thalidomide in the US, saving untold numbers of American children from being born with phocomelia, or no limbs.  Government meddling again. Just let the pharmaceutical company put whatever they want on the market.  People will make the right choice.  Right, Ayn?

What would happen, pray tell, if we trashed all the “onerous regulations” that we have in place, removing second hand smoke, stop marketing cigarettes to children, mandating child seats, seat belts and air bags, vaccinations, dangerous toys.   Do people really want to do away with government regulation?  Do we want people to die from something preventable?

In 1979, failure of companies to have an adequate amount of chloride in new soy-based infant formulae led to 130 infants developing chloride deficiency.  The new product was faulty, despite company claims. How many have to die, be made ill, miserable, hospitalized at great cost, before we get things right?

In 1989, the number of new foods introduced annually was so large that there was concern people had no way to decide the safety, cost, and nutritional value of what they bought.  One may say, “the market” will decide, but “the market” requires people to decide based upon facts, not ads, and honest numbers, rather than slick commercials.  The change did not come from “voluntary action,” for it never does.  In 1990, after the Nutritional Labeling and Education Act, we started seeing all those numbers on food we buy at the store, and now even at places like Starbucks, where the other day, I had a cup of coffee in one of those red “Satan sippers.”

I wanted something nice with my coffee, but everything that looked good under the glass had 300+ calories, and even if I jogged home, I might burn a third of that.  I ended up buying Vanilla Bean Scones, 300 calories for 3 of them, figuring 100 calories a day extra for 3 days I could handle.  Everything under the glass looked great, for 400-600 calories.

What else did the Nutritional Labeling Act do for me?  Ten years ago, when I suddenly found my profile not to my liking, I stopped peanut butter, which I love, and olive oil, diminishing my intake 600 calories a day.  I read the labels. The change was slow, but over six months, I lost nearly 4 kg or 9 pounds.  On a trip to Oregon, preparing for the move, I ate at a coffee shop every morning, enjoying a Marionberry muffin, which must have been 500 calories extra.  A little of this, a little of that, and the weight came back.

For the past year, nothing changed, despite a lot of hiking and running, remaining 5 pounds heavier than I wanted.  Obviously, I was eating as many calories as I was burning.  That’s thermodynamics.  I then took a hard look at my grocery shopping.  It turned out to be an easy look:  I found two items of note: yogurt I bought was 60 calories more than a comparable amount, which tasted the same.  That isn’t much, but the fancy vegetarian hot dogs I had two days a week were another story.

I was stunned.  Each was 280 calories a pop, 1120 total when I had them for dinner twice a week. By going back to the traditional type, I saved 720 calories alone every week.  Added to the yogurt I was eating, I could eat essentially the same for 1140 fewer calories a week.  Within six weeks, I had lost 1.5 kg, more than 3 pounds.  I couldn’t have done it without the Nutritional Labeling Act.

For every “onerous” regulation, there were a large group of people who once said, “somebody ought to pass a law”.  That’s what politics should be, doing good for people.  I’m not out to trash capitalism, but I’m damned if companies should get away with….murder.  Their fiduciary responsibility is to their stockholders.  We the government have a fiduciary responsibility to we the people, not we the stockholders.

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