Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Paging Upton Sinclair.

Keep your eyes open for the name of author Upton Sinclair to come up in an article or two as the year progresses. The recent food safety issues that have cropped up in the US and the release of director PT Anderson’s film “There Will Be Blood” should be enough to bring Sinclair’s work back into the national consciousness, even if it’s a fleeting mention. Have we really changed at all since his day and time?

Sinclair was the type of person we are sorely lacking in today’s political and social scene. An intellectual who’s interest seemed to lay far more with the common working man and the impoverished than with the academic, political and economic elitists of his time. He was a pure leftist, who brought his populist ideas to his work and even ran in several gubernatorial races in California, and is still a decisive figure to the far right-wing nearly 40 years after his death.

While the full scope of Sinclair’s novel “The Jungle” doesn’t seem to be on the radar of the country one facet of the story, our food safety, is beginning to gain attention once again. It seems we have a weekly food recall. E-Coli, salmonella or some other bacterial contamination of our food keeps rising to our attention. Now we have the melamine controversy where it appears that the government is spending more time keeping the full extent of the problem out of sight than they are keeping us informed of what they are doing and what we need to be aware of. Has the government, or any health agency for that matter, told us what could be the symptoms and risks of melamine to the human body? I haven't seen a mention from the feds on the effects or symptoms from day 1.

The main problem with the melamine story is this. The CDC, USDA and FDA have said over and over that they can find no indications that there has been a risk to the health of the public from this event. They have also released statement after statement that the risk has been minimal and “no problems have been detected to date.” The problem with those statements is that very little is actually known about the effects of melamine on the human body. The subject is understudied and what we do know is that the permissible level of melamine in human food that is mandated by the government is zero. None.

So how can the government, in good consciousness, tell us to not worry when they themselves know very little about how this triazine compound effects us? We are getting a much more clear picture from China, where this originated, that the profit eager and safety absent industrialists of that country are spiking their foods with high levels of melamine. Perhaps this is all a larger, global version of the Tuskegee Experiment? I’m also sure that the US Intelligence Community will be as eager to see what the long-term effects are just as they were interested in US cancer rates during and after the period of atmospheric nuclear tests.

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