Eggs and Agencies

August 31, 2010
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You might want to finish your bibimbap before reading this post. The salmonella outbreak that led to the largest egg recall in American history has now led to a disturbing Food and Drug Administration report about conditions on the Iowa farms where the eggs originated. The Chicago Tribune notes that the report’s grisly details include horrors such as “barns with dozens of holes chewed by rodents that mice, insects, and wild birds used to enter and live inside the barns.… [And] manure built up in 4- to 8-foot-tall piles in pits below the hen houses, in such quantities that it pushed pit doors open, allowing rodents and other wild animals access to hen houses.”
jacket imageThe farms in question are among the largest in the nation, and nearly half a billion eggs have been recalled. Given the extent and nature of the problems the inspectors have documented, it is clear the facilities haven’t been visited by the FDA in a fairly long time. This kind of regulatory failure is the focus of Rena Steinzor and Sidney Shapiro’s The People’s Agents and the Battle to Protect the American Public: Special Interests, Government, and Threats to Health, Safety, and the Environment. Steinzor and Shapiro point out that the agencies responsible for protecting us from diseased eggs, oil spills, and greedy banks are not primarily to blame for their failures—the roots of the problem are political. Among other pressures, these agencies are often the target of campaigns to cut the federal budget. Sidney Shapiro addressed the latest call to do just that yesterday on the Huffington Post, writing:

There are a number of interrelated reasons for regulatory dysfunction, but one stands out: The budgets for the regulatory agencies have been cut over and over again, leaving the agencies short-handed. While the country has serious budget problems, regulatory agencies are such a small part of the federal budget that refunding them would have almost no impact on the annual budget or the size of the deficit.

Nonetheless, The People’s Agents doesn’t merely defend the existence of the agencies, it also presents plans for reforming them to ensure that they can continue to fulfill their mission of protecting the public.

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