Reliable Security Information

The Dickensian Character from US Business: A Biosecurity Threat

The daily newspaper is now always loaded with Dickensian characters. You know, the class of people who hated the last two thirds of A Christmas Carol.

Often they have truly negative security implications for the general welfare, a development many don't like to hear about.

Take Austin "Jack" DeCoster, the man behind the biggest egg recall in US history, profiled in the Los Angeles Times last week.

As the head of Wright County Egg Farms in Iowa, the paper couldn't have painted him more poorly. If there was something evil Decoster hadn't done in food production in the last few years, one can't imagine what it might have been.

DeCoster caused child labor laws to be rewritten in Maine, was sued by neighbors for "beetle infestation," had eggs his company produced banned in New York, and was declared a "habitual violator" of environmental regulations in Iowa for "mishandling of hog waste."

And in 1997 he was fined a very large sum by the feds for "numerous egregious safety and health violations" in Maine.

But the US system just can't get guys like this off the street, even after 1,500 have Salmonella.

Sadly, I've covered these types of events previously.

In 2008, During the Bush administration it was like this, too:

In the predator state, the bad company ... will literally poison the public. And [it] won't stop until people are killed. In the predator state system, still that's not even enough to get them [dragged off].

A year ago [in 2007] Baxter International and another US company it did business with killed people by selling tainted heparin. Heparin is a necessary drug in US medicine and it used to be made here. But in the rush for profits, like many other US businesses, both companies subcontracted their formerly in-house work to China, where there were people willing and malicious enough to deliver a cheaper counterfeit substance, a derivative of chondroitin sulfate, used to mimic heparin. The counterfeit material sickened hundreds and killed a number of people outright. There were news stories and vows of reform. And then nothing happened; it was back to business as usual in the predator state. It was no time to get in the way of commerce!

Today readers have the spectacle of the house hearings in which Peanut Corporation of America's CEO, Stewart Parnell, is seen as willfully urging his employees to get his salmonella-laced peanuts out the door.

"[Parnell] gave instructions to nonetheless 'turn them loose' ... " reports the Atlanta Journal & Constitution. At the time, Parnell was engaged in finding a laboratory that wouldn't return a positive salmonella test, kind of like fishing through a high school bundle of failed exams, looking for the lone good one, the coincidental exception, that could be waved around to show what a diligent student you were.

However, despite making hundreds ill and killing a handful, Parnell's still on the street and the bulldozers haven't been called. Literally, months go by -- sometimes years -- and the US government just will not remove such people.

In the predator state, this is the way things work, or -- don't work.

In the predator state, it is important to look the other way, to pretend to be concerned, but to actually remain indifferent to such things as long as humanly possible. Because to take action would be to interfere with the business of predators, the making of profit at everyone else's expense.

Two years later, and despite lots of noise from the Obama administration about making regulation stronger and revamping the FDA with someone named Margaret Hamburg -- someone at the time of appointment alleged to be great -- it's the same old story.

Not enough regulations, or regulations put in place too late, or ignored, or any other miscellaneous excuse from a bottomless grab-bag to explain why we have the trouble we do.

At least the Chinese government has the stones to actually execute a couple businessmen every once in awhile for poisoning or sickening a mass of people.

The Los Angeles Times profile of DeCoster had someone attesting he was at least good for local tax revenues. This because in desperate times people will accept anything really bad as long as there's a bit of money that comes with it.

And one of his old attorney's added: "I know Jack pushes the envelope because he's growth oriented."

Growth-oriented and envelope-pushing to the extent that yesterday newspapers read:

Federal investigators found piles of manure up to eight feet tall, live mice, pigeons and other birds inside the hen houses at two egg farms suspected of causing a nationwide outbreak of salmonella illness, officials said Monday.

Investigators made public their observations of Wright County Egg ...

FDA officials said Wright County Egg and [another egg farm] appeared to violate federal regulations for egg safety that took effect July 9, as well as voluntary industry standards for sanitation. Company officials have said they were in compliance. - the WaPost

On its blog, the LA Times explained salmonella had been virtually eliminated from state egg production by institution of a rigorous program of sanitation.

But that gets in the way of things, like profit:

The program, which includes vaccinating hens and testing barns regularly for bacteria, has essentially wiped out salmonella on California farms, industry officials say.

Protecting the public, however, has impacted business and that we cannot abide:

One reason ... California farmers contend, is cost. Injecting chickens and swabbing cages takes money -- not a fortune, but enough to send egg distributors searching for lower-cost sources.

"We have lost contracts over pennies a dozen," [one egg farmer said]. "They want cheap eggs."

An obvious answer to the dilemma is for the US government to regularly destroy a business and ban its bosses for causing mass illness through negligence and cost-cutting. And to do it swiftly.

Not to just talk about putting a bootheel on some company's throat but to actually crush its windpipe, in a manner of speaking.

But in the country where every mechanism for guaranteeing the public welfare has been overturned for the sake of big business, it is critical that attention be diverted from real liabilities to the external menace, potential threats which can even be trumped up in the absence of proof that such things exist in a practical sense. In the case of tainted food and drugs, it has always been the radical Islamists under Osama bin Laden who have been passed around as those who would easily poison and contaminate American food and drugs.

A few years ago, terrorists might put botulism in milk, killing hundreds of thousands. Earlier this year, they might take over a botox-making plant in a foreign country.

Terrorists might put anthrax in beef, rice or orange juice. (It was an American, an insider, working from a biodefense lab, who put anthrax in the mail, killing five. But only recently has research on dangerous agents been suspended at the lab where the insider, Bruce Ivins, worked so that the military-run disease house can be internally put in order.)

Osama bin Laden and his henchmen were even bandied about as people who could possibly poison lunch meals at school!

In fact, one famous example always used to squeal about what terrorists can do to food was also an American example, the work of the Rajneeshee cult in The Dalles, Oregon. And while it was intentional, it still was not as effective at creating illness, monetary loss and disruption as the recent egg recall. Keep in mind, the numerical count of illnesses actually caused by the recent mass distribution of diseased eggs is probably an undercount due to lack of recognition of the problem in the early stages.

From a paper posted at the Centers for Disease Control:

Bioterrorist attacks could be covert or announced and could be caused by virtually any pathogenic microorganism. The case of the Rajneeshee religious cult in The Dalles, Oregon, is an example (1). The cult planned to infect residents with Salmonella on election day to influence the results of county elections. To practice for the attack, they contaminated salad bars at 10 restaurants with S. Typhimurium on several occasions before the election. A communitywide outbreak of salmonellosis resulted; at least 751 cases were documented in a county that typically reports fewer than five cases per year. Although bioterrorism was considered a possibility when the outbreak was being investigated by public health officials, it was considered unlikely.

There's a sensible way to look at such threats. And the US government doesn't do it, and US corporate interests work to discourage it. It gets in the way of the system.

History unequivocally shows that bioterrorism as a mechanism for causing illness and disruption is not nearly as frequent, effective or as motivating as the combination of greed, lack of regulation, and an utter disregard for the public welfare in American business.

That's just a fact.

An earlier edition of this post was first published at Dick Destiny.

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