Wednesday, October 10, 2018

More about food safety in the 19th century

My recent post about ridiculously dangerous milk was all due to reviews of Deborah Blum's book The Poison Squad, and from an NPR interview about it, I extract this:
You tell stories of kids dying from eating candy that was contaminated with lead. Given that this was causing real suffering in consumers, what kinds of arguments were people making for leaving this unregulated?

It's baffling, because you are in this period where food makers are knowingly using very bad things. I gave the example of arsenic, which was a green food dye also used to make the shellac that glosses up chocolate. But lead was used to color candies, and red lead was used in cheese. If people wanted to make a beautiful, orange cheddar cheese, they just dumped a little red lead in it. This is not people who didn't know it was bad, but there were things that made it permissible. There were no labels, and so there was no public pressure. It was just a pre-regulatory Wild West of food that permitted bad actors to do what they will, and so they did. It saved them a lot of money. You get this capitalistic feedback loop of people who were trying to make a living – and wanting to make more of a living. The consumer was both the guinea pig and the victim.

To no one's surprise, if you feed people formaldehyde, or arsenic or lead, they will get sick. And when you demonstrate that, why does it still remain so difficult to outlaw these substances in food? 

The food industry had been organizing itself to fight regulation. Wiley had been advocating and working with congressmen to get some kind of basic consumer protection. And these experiments caught national attention — they were front-page news, there were songs about them — and everyone was realizing that there is a lot of bad stuff in their food. There was an immediate pushback. Suddenly, congressmen are on the side of food business or getting offered more money. The food industry organizes to create a Food Manufacturers Association. They were phenomenally effective. They did a great job trying to damage Wiley's reputation publicly and deny what he was finding, and bullied and threatened congressmen to kill regulation every time it came up.
If Catallaxy was still a blog where you could usefully argue about libertarianism as a political philosophy, I would be commenting there about this.

But now it's just full of ratbags, and it's even hard to goad Jason to comment here...

1 comment:

John said...

If the general public was aware of some of the studies I have read in recent months they might be inclined to seriously question the advertising claims made by so many food manufacturers and the public health policy advice they receive. There is a raging debate about the risks associated with saturated fat, whether or not cholesterol is the real culprit behind CVD, and there is now very worrying data about the use of some artificial sweeteners.

Don't trust the food industry, they are not there to provide health advice they are there to make a profit.