Getting It Wrong On Tomatoes

AP has a story today about the salmonella poisonings teaching the food industry a lesson. They just get it wrong. The story shows a fundamental lack of understanding about what is happening to us today. The story, The Associated Press: Food industry bitten by its lobbying success

One of the worst outbreaks of foodborne illness in the U.S. is teaching the food industry the truth of the adage, “Be careful what you wish for because you might get it.”
The industry pressured the Bush administration years ago to limit the paperwork companies would have to keep to help U.S. health investigators quickly trace produce that sickens consumers, according to interviews and government reports reviewed by The Associated Press.
The White House also killed a plan to require the industry to maintain electronic tracking records that could be reviewed easily during a crisis to search for an outbreak’s source. Companies complained the proposals were too burdensome and costly, and warned they could disrupt the availability of consumers’ favorite foods.
The apparent but unintended consequences of the lobbying success: a paper record-keeping system that has slowed investigators, with estimated business losses of $250 million. So far, nearly 1,300 people in 43 states, the District of Columbia and Canada have been sickened by salmonella since April.

This is a consequence of our habit of thinking of corporations and industries as some kind of sentient entities. They are not.
Let me tell you how this really works: The executives who killed regulation pocketed cash — when people later get sick insurance companies and shareholders are the ones who pay for it. There is no sentient being called “food industry” or “tomato company” at work here. There are a few executives who got rich, and everyone else pays for it.
As long as we use these mental frames of industries and companies as sentient entities we will make these mistakes. When we hear that a company has an opinion or an interest, we are not hearing from Bob in Sales or Alice in Accounts Receivable, they are told from the top. A company is only a piece of paper. The people in the companies are told what to do by a few people at the top. Those people act in their OWN interests, period. When we understand this we can start to write laws and regulations that deal with reality.
(Also diaried at La Vida Locavore — “the blog for anyone whose crazy life includes planting, growing, weeding, fertilizing, raising, picking, harvesting, processing, cooking, baking, making, serving, buying, selling, distributing, transporting, composting, organizing around, lobbying about, writing about, thinking about, talking about, playing with, and eating food!”)

5 thoughts on “Getting It Wrong On Tomatoes

  1. The problem is not one of understanding. Everyone understands what’s going on. The problem is legal bribery of government officials (of both parties).

  2. OK, now something is wrong with this picture. So it wasn’t the tomatoes it was the jalapenos, HMMMMMMMM!
    So I am to believe that “1,300 people in 43 states, the District of Columbia and Canada have been sickened by salmonella since April,” had been feasting on jalapenos.
    That tomatoe lobby rocks. Funny stuff.

  3. Dave, you’re so right when it comes to corporations. But you talk about the government and its institutions as if they are “sentient beings” all the time.
    A corporation is simply a group of people organized around a common objective. It doesn’t matter if it’s a for-profit, non-profit, government institution, charity or anything else. They all lack the characteristics that make us human (empathy, conscience, etc.).
    I think you when you talk as if the government is somehow “better” or more “benign” that corporations are, you’re making a big mistake.
    We need to be dubious about all forms of corporate power. Especially that one form of corporate power that has a monopoly on the use of force and violence to achieve its ends. That would be our Federal, State and Local governments.

  4. Great post. Two comments:
    1. It’s funny, or not, that our famously free press never, ever mentions either growing your own tomatoes or buying local as a remedy to industry-propagated typhoid fever (what doctors call salmonella poisoning). Instead, we’re told to be good consumers. Go shopping!
    2. We don’t need to be “dubious” about corporate power. We need to abolish the legal doctrine that corporations are legal persons.

  5. lambert strether:
    Would you also abolish the rights of:
    – Labor Unions
    – Political Parties
    – Condominium Associations
    – The Red Cross
    – Public School Boards
    – etc etc.
    These are all “legal persons” as well, but they’re not organized around a profit motive.
    The right to organize ourselves into groups to pursue our goals is a fundamental right, guaranteed by our Constitution.
    Is it the non-human legal entity that bothers you? Or, is just the pursuit of profit that you wish to ban?

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