Peanut Corporation of America may have poisoned over 630 Americans before going bankrupt this past weekend—because no one was paying attention. Last fall melamine got into baby formula because no one was watching; now salmonella-tainted peanuts reached shelves because no one was watching
The devil is in the details, of course, as he so often is. While there is strong evidence that the Chinese inspection system was hamstrung by corruption, the inspection system here that missed tainted peanuts simply collapsed under its own weight. As part of the government’s duty to protect its people, there needs to be a better system in place for food safety oversight. Split among the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, and about ten other agencies, American food inspections are an illogical mess that provides no accountability—a problem that was recognized a decade ago (PDF).
Now The New York Times is holding the administration’s feet to the fire on this, calling for President Obama to fulfill his promise “to create a government that does a better job of protecting the American consumer.” New technology, both of government and of food production, makes it possible and necessary to coordinate and consolidate inspection dutiesin a way that we could not have dreamed of a generation ago. This is an important step to secure the safety of all Americans when we’re universally vulnerable.