Friday, July 18, 2008

Salmonela Tomato Scare - An abundance of government

About 1200 people across the country reported getting sick due to the recent salmonela outbreak. The Food and Drug Administration, out of an "abundance of caution" approach, pointed the finger at tomatos. Not surprisingly, tomato sales plummeted. So far, it's estimated that the tomato industry is out 100 million dollars. That does not include others in the supply chain; truckers, retailers, restaraunt owners.

The estimate of small businesses that will close due to the scare is already in the hundreds and may end up in the thousands. The FDA later said that maybe it wasn't the tomatos. It might be jalepeno peppers or avacados. I guess they figured that misery would like a little company.

Today the FDA has cleared tomatos and has admitted they have no idea where the outbreak came from. The "abundance of caution" approach is really a "cover your butt" approach. It exists in any large organization where it's better to take a wild guess than to admit that you don't know.

If the FDA had simply been honest and said "There's been a salmonela outbreak. We're still unsure of the cause. We'll keep you posted." There would not have been a single additional illness, since they were giving erroneous advice in the first place, and at least hundreds of small businesses would not have been financially destroyed.

Americans want quick and decisive reaction to problems that are the legitimate concern of the government. They also want competence. That includes the wisdom to know that you don't have enough information to take a particular action, no matter how it will play with the public. When action is taken based on deliberate application of logic and reason to established facts, that's competence. When action is taken because one feels it's time to take an action, any action, that's panic.

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