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Dadburn gub’mint regulations!

July 19, 2008

Many people don’t realize how bad things were before the invention of antibiotics.  Injuries in war and peace were likely to result in horrible death, contageous bacterial diseases raged through communities, and a bad sandwich could kill you. Babies died from things that are considered trivial today.  Not just occasionally, but often – it was a major reason why life expectency was only about half what it is today. 

Now suppose there was an industry that was doing something that makes antibiotics useless – in effect turning back the clock to pre-antibiotic days?  What do you think we should do?

  • Immediately step in with the full power of law to make them stop it!  Their profits are less important than keeping a major public health tool. 
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  • Do nothing and hope the “free market” will somehow make the industry stop externalizing its costs against the public good. After all, government regulation is bad.

If you picked the second option, you are a Big-L Libertarian.  The thought of government inspectors walking around a place of business taking samples and writing things down on clipboards sets your teeth on edge.  The connection between agricultural misuse of antibiotics and a baby dying of a formerly treatable infection sounds like college-boy stuff to you.  How dare the government throttle a growing economy?!

Well that seems to be the position of the current FDA.  Misuse of cephalosporin drugs was widespread in 2001 when they bothered to look, and on July 3 of this year they just got around to issuing a rule to stop it, which goes into effect in October of this year.  Meanwhile, the industry has a chance to ‘comment’, which means they can try to stop the rule.  No hurry, guys, take your time.  You’re doing a ‘heckuva job’.

Cephalosporin, by the way, isn’t the only antibiotic being abused by the livestock and poultry industries, and we’ve known about it for a long time.  The problem is that in a competitive market, altruism does not apply and the gravitational pull of profit is irresistible.  The industry sure as hell won’t regulate itself.  Only external regulation can protect you and me and our grandkids from industries that externalize their costs to the commons.  And regulations – which we all hate, are funded by fees and taxes – which we all hate even more. 

We’re rugged American individualists, dagnabbit!  It’s our precious choice!  If only the germs would respect international boundaries, it wouldn’t be anybody else’s business how we raise our cattle.  Because if there’s anything we hate more than regulation and taxes, it’s thinking about the well-being of other countries.  After all, what happens to them doesn’t affect us.  Does it?

Categories: Politics
  1. July 20, 2008 at 08:39 | #1

    What are you trying to say?

  2. July 23, 2008 at 21:14 | #2

    I hoped someone would chime in but no one did.  The existence of your question suggests that I didn’t say it very well.  Will try again in a later post.

  3. July 27, 2008 at 03:27 | #3

    Here in South Korea, they are rioting in the streets over importing U.S. beef.  Koreans think they’re going to get Mad Cow Disease.  I wish that they knew the facts about antibiotic-laced beef and chicken from America.  It’s much scarier than MCD, because it is much more probable that resistant microbes are evolving.  We already know about Staph.

  4. July 27, 2008 at 09:15 | #4

    You are absolutely right that resistant bacteria are a bigger danger than MCD (although the danger from MCD is not zero).  The American food industry fights regulation tooth and nail, until a serious contamination happens and there’s no way to tell where it came from.  And here’s a perfect example: Produce industry and Bush administration’s short sighted and costly mistake

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