Sunday, June 22, 2008

When Spending a Little Money Saves Lots of Money (and Lives)

I was talking to a friend yesterday. He had sent me a spoof video called I'm Voting Republican. It's rather humorous up to a point. A woman consumer talks about being in fear of genetically modified and irradiated foods. I lamented to my friend that people shouldn't fear GM or irradiated foods. He pointed out that people wouldn't have gotten sick with Salmonella contaminated tomatoes if they'd been irradiated first. I'm not sure who spread the rumor that irradiating food or making GM crops is "bad" but this is the "good" kind of progress that people shouldn't fear. The Army developed irradiation of foods to preserve them. Napoleon said, "An Army marches on its stomach". Armies need to stockpile food for times of war and they can't afford for that food to make their combat troops ill.

Before World War II, diseases usually killed more soldiers than bullets. Any time large groups of men were brought together for battle, diseases such as cholera spread quickly among the ranks if care wasn't taken by the commanders to maintain sanitary conditions and sometimes even good sanitation didn't prevent disease outbreaks. World War I ended due to the Influenza Pandemic of 1918. Too many soldiers were dying to continue fighting the war.

The people who likely complained about the irradiation of foods were likely to be the large wholesale producers because of lost revenues and costs. Irradiated foods have longer shelf lives, so revenues would go down. The irradiation process itself isn't that costly, but you do need worker education and a gamma ray source, so costs would go up a little bit. Well, something's gotta give here because public health is more important than profits and share price. Besides, sometime in the near future, probably in the next 20-40 years, we'll have to waste less food. There will be 8 billion mouths to feed shortly. We've already fished out the oceans with 6 billion people. Obviously, we've found the sustainable carrying capacity of the Earth's oceans which make up 70% of the surface of the planet and surpassed it. We have to make our remaining arable land produce more food. There's likely going to be a fresh water shortage as well so irrigation of crops will have to become more efficient regarding water use. The airlines balked at installing secure cockpit doors on airliners. Look where it got them - 9/11 and its aftermath. Of course, Congress bailed them out. Will Congress bail out the food industry when one hundred people die from eating tainted salad, and consumers quit buying salad for a month or more? As far as I know, no one died from the tomato incident. Likely Campbell's and Heinz bought up a bunch of tomatoes cheap, and turned them into pasteurized tomato juice, and sterilized soups, pastes, and sauces. Will consumers continue to live in fear hoping their produce doesn't kill them or make them ill, or will they make the FDA and USDA do their jobs? Will the Congress draft legislation helping the growers and producers, or will they beef up the regulatory agencies responsible for the public good?

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