Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Little Story, Big News

Your "big" news stories confected for mainstream consumption do not always cover matters of mainstream consumption.

Sotomayor, health care, Guantanamo...a liberal's dream list of concerns blanket our Web pages and daily newspapers thanks to the change in power affected last November.

Sometimes, in the heat of it all, it is not so easy to remember that during the Bush regime Guantanamo was the particular province of media oddities such as, well, highwayscribery.

Yes, there are close votes on health care forthcoming, and frustrated minority senators sniping at a nominee assured confirmation, but the shift in agenda from Bush to Obama is dramatic enough to suggest they were two presidents of two different countries (with the same name).

As to mainstream consumption, it would have been unheard of, a year ago, that our big media outlets must-needs bother themselves with such a thing as the Obama administration's efforts to restrict the use of anti-biotics in our food supply.

But lo and behold, there was Gardiner Harris's piece in the July 14 edition of "The New York Times."

Given its page 17 placement, HR 962, sponsored by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) is not the biggest star in the media constellation.

But if the Michael Jackson circus taught us anything, it is that the chieftains at our networks and bureaus have no monopoly on the country's sober priorities and are as apt to lose their heads as a teenage girl at a concert of the now departed pop star.

Gardiner ledes with the administration seeking, "to ban many routine uses of antibiotics in farm animals in hopes of reducing the spread of dangerous bacteria in humans."

One of the unsung heroes of our time, or any time, Principal Deputy Commissioner of Food and Drug Joshua Sharfstein, told the House Rules Committee on Monday that, "feeding antibiotics to healthy chickens, pigs, and cattle -- done to encourage rapid growth -- should cease."

And that's a start. From there highwayscribery would like to see the cessation of all additions to farm livestock that are not necessarily...actual food.

Slaughter's legislation would ban seven classes of antibiotics from being given and restrict the application of others to therapeutic and preventive uses.

One would have thought that's what such things were intended for in the first place.

Sharfstein, and those who hired him in the Obama administration, believe the antibiotics lead to the development of bacteria in humans for which our immune systems have no response.

The American Medical Association agrees with them.

The bad and somewhat dispiriting news is that the farm lobby is against the measure and therefore, Gardiner reports, "makes its passage unlikely."

Well, you know, that's awful.

After all, we're aware something makes us sick -- and sounds funny as an idea to begin with -- the doctors' council essentially agrees, and because the National Pork Producers Council has paid for the loyalty of enough Congress members, we've got to eat...

But all hope is not lost. There's a plan to sidestep Congressional fans of polluted food and slip the "Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2007" into the health care reform bill.

That should make the President's job even easier!

Dave Warner, a spokesman for the porkmen, admits there seem to be more cases of anti-biotic resistance diseases from food consumption. But he added that there are "no good studies" tying them to the use of these substances in the production of that food.

Which may or may not be true, but wouldn't it be nice if they stopped using these things until some degree of certainty is achieved on the question?

The Pew Environment Group, the article goes on to note, is paying for some advertisements supporting the measure.

Robert Martin, a senior officer at Pew said, "Just the fact that Congresswoman Slaughter is having a hearing today is a huge step forward."

Which is somewhat the point of this post.

(You can call Slaughter at (202) 225-3615 to encourage her efforts in this area).


Xigent said...

Indeed, Stephen, a small story that portends a veritable sea change. So small that I missed it. Far more telling and heartening than some of Obama's foot-dragging on torture rules and regs (but who knows what's going on behind the scenes there).

It's almost as though ... yes, as though someone were trying to coordinate health policy among regulatory initiatives (health reform, public health, epidemiology) and across departmental boundaries.

As though the health of the people (whom I'd come to think of from 2001 to 2009 as "consumers") mattered more than how much had to be spent on them in the next budget year.

My instincts for reacting to such tidings are still dormant.

A bit leery of what "the farm lobby" means, though. At one time it was made up of farmers. Is it not now code for "the agribusiness lobby"?

In any case, I leave your post more edified than when I arrived. Thanks.

the highway scribe said...

Dear X,

So GOOD to read you again. We are, as usual, lock-step on the footdragging and other matters. "Farm lobby" does indeed mean agro-business as you suggest. Let's hope for the best here and thanks for reading. Made my day.

Xigent said...

So where's the little widget that lets readers subscribe to your blog in a feed reader?

I think I've managed to subscribe anyway, thanks to a Firefox add-on that captured this address:

FWIW, I have a subscribe widget on my (much less frequently updated and considerably less substantive and more flippant) blog, Not So Fast There, Pal ....

Fondest regards, etc.

the highway scribe said...


I'll try to figure it out. I'm currently in a net-heavy phase working out some the kinks in my massive distribution and media empire (burp).

I'll drop by your site and link up. Somebody has to be moved out from my list of "friends".