Mr. President, you’re killing us.
Now it’s lettuce. We’re no longer in Mr. McGregor’s lettuce patch with Peter Rabbit stealing his leafy greens. Huge agri-businesses in California and Arizona deliver most of the lettuce, spinach, and cabbage we buy. Greens are mostly eaten raw so any — hold your nose — fecal material that might have attached to it doesn’t get cooked away. Giving them a bath in your kitchen sink isn’t enough. At least 43 people fell ill in such a wide swath of the country that there had to be a “clean break,” with a warning that all romaine could be contaminated.
There oughta be a law to make sure that animal waste and the E. coli bacteria that comes with it doesn’t find its way to your table. There is. Before Congress was paralyzed, it occasionally saw a problem and moved to fix it. The Food Safety Modernization Act signed by President Barack Obama in 2011 was the first attempt since 1938 to improve the safety of what we eat. A more stringent requirement for growers to test water for the strain of E. coli that makes us sick grew out of that law.
The government was slated to start testing samples this year. Instead it’s now 2022 and could be later yet. Sarah Sorscher of the Center for Science in the Public Interest says the FDA was right when it said the rules on agricultural water could have been improved. “But then they started talking about the regulatory burden on farms and you knew the delay was leading towards even less protection,” Sorscher says.
It’s part of Trump’s M.O. Most regulations are a nail and he’s a hammer. All requirements are pesky and burdensome. Anything with Obama fingerprints on it is particularly bad. He’s going to get government off the backs of hard-working businessmen, even if it kills us.
If it hadn’t come days before Thanksgiving, we might not have noticed the alert from public health officials for grocers to stop selling romaine, people to stop eating it, and everyone to throw out any in the fridge. Except for some limp arugula that couldn’t be substituted for the more prosaic romaine without risking a discussion by relatives of your elite lettuce choice, there was little to buy.
A Soviet-like shortage might not disturb Trump with his love of all things Russian, but for the one holiday celebrating the cornucopia of America, it was a stark reminder of all the basic governing our government isn’t doing. Today it’s lettuce, and the next thing you know, we’re using bottled water to bathe like the poor citizens of Flint, Michigan.
The problem with leafy greens is not new. In 2006, there was an outbreak of E. coli when romaine from a farm in California caused illnesses. Wild pigs were blamed — there’s no trade group for them — rather than farm animals. Last year there was a bigger outbreak in Arizona.
The Centers for Disease Control’s test — a more stringent one than the one farmers voluntarily use — found that it was runoff from cattle upstream that sent E. coli into water that was then showered on crops. There was a voluntary recall, but not before five people died and 210 were sickened.
There are limited solutions to a growing problem but testing the water for animal waste is at least something. Cattle gotta do what cattle gotta do and moving them downstream is not all that practical. The answer has been not to try to regulate on that end but on the water side. Even that is slipping through the government’s fingers.
Trump’s base would say “romaine calm,” what’s the fuss, as they ignore the dirtier air and drinking water and toxic runoff from mines into streams. Why do you blame the president for everything, Trump supporters ask? Only for a few things: gassing babies at the border, ignoring climate change so we may die from drought and hurricanes, floods, and fire, everyday threatening law enforcement, ignoring his CIA when it tells him a prince he likes killed an American journalist.
Trump said yesterday that his “gut” tells him “more sometimes than anybody else’s brain.” He ignored his own government’s dire warning not to eat romaine by reportedly eating Caesar salad at his Thanksgiving feast. Not going blind from looking straight into a full eclipse of the sun when told not to emboldens a man in all the wrong ways. So eat up and be merry. Trump’s gut says the lettuce is fine.
Margaret Carlson is a columnist for the Daily Beast. She was formerly the first woman columnist at Time magazine, a columnist at Bloomberg View, a weekly panelist on CNN’s "Capital Gang" and managing editor at the New Republic. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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