Sunday, March 30, 2014

Republicans Suspect When Government Does Good Things

There is a spread of Pork Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDv) around central Pennsylvania. Yes, it as gross as it sounds. It kills young pigs. It is found in older pigs and sickens them yet they survive. To be fair to the pork industry, they reassure us the pigs with PEDv virus are safe to eat.

Credit goes to Harrisburg’s own Bill Keisling and his Yardbird publications for discovering this outbreak. This is an excellent example of the use of investigative journalism. We need more people who examine and question what is happening.

PEDv disease reached the United States last year. It has now reached our local farms. This is something relatively new that we must learn how to handle,

Meats should be thoroughly cooked, regardless. All meat can contain contaminants. Nearly all raw chickens sold contain harmful substances.

This PEDv event raises critical policy issues. First, as Yardbird points out, the state Agriculture Department states there is nothing they can be do about this problem.

The Agriculture Department is unable to act to intercede in a virus that can cause significant economic loss to local farmers.

The matter goes far beyond the PEDv crisis. The Agriculture Department can not react to most any crisis. They react to problems brought to their attention. Then they analyze the data and seek conclusions to what diseases may exist.

The Agriculture Department does not have the legal authority to be proactive. This solution should be obvious. The legislature and Governor should allow this. Industry may object, yet industry needs to be saved from itself. The health and safety of consumers and products needs to come first.

The Agriculture Department needs more resources. They can test for a limited number of health threats. As more goods come in from other countries, they need to be able to test for a wider range of potential threats, many of which may be new to Pennsylvania. There are many health threats worldwide that are beyond the Agriculture Department’s abilities to identify.

The limiting of state government to being reactive rather than proactive is not limited to the Agriculture Department. The same problem is found with the Health Department.

A seemingly lax approach to health dangers is not the fault of Health Department employees. It is our fault for not demanding the legislature and the Governor to insist that both the Health and Agriculture Departments proactively seek to identify health concerns, warn others, help those affected, and take actions to prevent the illness from spreading.

There are been instances when people, pets, and farm products have become diseased and died. It is up to someone to report this to the Agriculture Department. If they feel it is appropriate, they will conduct tests and see if there is something happening that can be spread.

The Health Department has excellent records of health data. Yet they just basically publish the data. They don’t issue commentary. It is up to someone else to do the research and determine if there are reasons why there may be clusters of health concerns.

Some clusters are just statistical flukes. Some are chance happenings that a large number of people contaminated each other.

Many health clusters indicate a problem exists. Sometimes  a disease outbreak may have an environmental cause.

In Pennsylvania, it happens that an industrial spill or leakages from an old mine or contaminated worksite can sickened people. One would need to have knowledge of both these environmental facts and health information to put these together.

The Health, Agriculture, and Environmental Protection Departments have no legal mandate to examine each others’ data to determine if they may find connections.  This is something the legislature and Governor should legally require.

It is often up to the public to find suspicious patterns and question them. Yet few people have the expertise to do this. There have been past successes found by investigative journalists.

It has been reporters, familiar with local spills, leaks, and other hazards who have found connections between environmental hazards and increased health concerns. It often took newspapers that made commitments to investigative reporters to discover these facts.

The sad thing is newspapers are dying, with many already dead. Those that survive are cutting back staff. Investigative reporters are often among those staff that are cut.

We now are in an era where the Internet produces more people able to express their views on public forums. At the same time, it is reducing the ability of news organizations to hire expert reporters who can take a long period of time to research a complicated issue.

That is why I note is was an investigative reporter Bill Keisling who broke the story about the PEDv. We need more, not fewer, such writers.

We also need government to require itself to act as its own investigative researchers. We need to have people with legal authority to research and act on health and public safety matters.

We should demand that our government actively protect us.

We also need a free and active press to protect us from government inaction and wrongful government action.


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