Here’s my plan to reform the food safety system — take the asylum keys away from the inmates. The New York Times documents the absolute unmitigated disaster of our privatized, volunteer food safety system. But the first three paragraphs sum up the entirety of the problem:

When food industry giants like Kellogg want to ensure that American consumers are being protected from contaminated products, they rely on private inspectors like Eugene A. Hatfield. So last spring Mr. Hatfield headed to the Peanut Corporation of America plant in southwest Georgia to make sure its chopped nuts, paste and peanut butter were safe to use in everything from granola bars to ice cream.

The peanut company, though, knew in advance that Mr. Hatfield was coming. He had less than a day to check the entire plant, which processed several million pounds of peanuts a month.

Mr. Hatfield, 66, an expert in fresh produce, was not aware that peanuts were readily susceptible to salmonella poisoning — which he was not required to test for anyway. And while Mr. Hatfield was inspecting the plant on behalf of Kellogg and other food companies, the Peanut Corporation was paying him for his efforts.

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1) Where’s the FDA in all this and 2) how many logical flaws can you find in this system? Nowhere and lots. Food inspections are just too darn expensive — let’s have the food companies take care of it for us. And make no mistake: our friends in the food industry really, really don’t want the government snooping around. Even when mild reforms are proposed, like toughening audit standards and automatically alerting federal authorities when problems arise, the food industry screams bloody murder. Which is funny tragic when you think about it, given recent events.

If you want detailed reform proposals, ask Bill Marler. But at the end of the day there are three things that will fix food safety. Cut red tape, spend lots more money, and de-privatize the food safety business. Luckily that’s just the kind of reform we’re good at. We are good at doing those sorts of things.

Aren’t we?

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