A solid piece that was buried in The New York Times today takes a look at the Obama administration’s enactment (or proposal of) tougher worker safety and consumer protection standards across a host of federal agencies. Sure, regulation buttressing is not really sexy, but its tremendously important. And the administration deserves some credit here.
What kind of regulations are we talking about here? Everything from construction site water runoff to safeguarding eggs. These include (from the article and its corresponding piece):
SALMONELLA AND EGGS
Final rule, July 2009
Mandates measures to prevent salmonella on eggshells during production, storage and transportation, like refrigeration of eggs or rodent-control efforts, to prevent an estimated 79,179 illnesses a year.
STOPPING DISTANCE FOR TRUCKS
Final rule, July 2009
Cost: At least $50 million a year. Savings: at least $169 million a year. New tractor-trailers will be required to be able to break from 60 m.p.h. to a complete stop within 250 feet, a 30 percent reduction, a change that is estimated to prevent 227 deaths annually and 300 serious injuries.
Final rule, October 2009
The first federal requirement to report and monitor greenhouse-gas emissions from about 10,000 industrial facilities representing 85 percent of such emissions in the United States.
The piece also talks about the upticks and generally favorable trends of inspection rates across agencies. FDA inspections are up significantly (still nowhere near what they should be, [example, example] but still headed in the right direction).
But what caught GAP’s eye today was the heavily-increasing number of inspections coming out of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC). That agency has the not-so-insignificant task of making sure products on store shelves don’t kill or significantly hurt people. Like toys from China with oodles of lead parts.
A new study of insiders who blow the whistle on drug company fraud has found that all of the whistleblowers were primarily motivated by ethics rather than possible financial rewards.
However, the study also found many of the whistleblowers paid a tremendous personal cost for their disclosures and a vast majority experienced retaliation from employers, including being harassed, blackballed, and fired. Many were unable to secure other jobs during and after the investigations and some experienced personal health problems including panic attacks.
The lead author of the study, Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School, stated:
"A lot of them express a very strong ethical compass that they think guides them but, boy, they really do suffer a lot for the public good that they perform."
"The whistle-blowers need more support in the process of bringing the case forward."
As the article notes, the Justice Department currently has more than 1,000 whistleblower cases waiting to be investigated. From 1996 through 2005, health care fraud whistleblowers have led to the recovery of more than $9 billion.
GAP has long known that whistleblowers come forward because they "want to right a wrong, or bring to light something that was ethically compromised."
We have seen many whistleblowers come forward with no possibility of any financial reward. Instead, many are either forced to leave their jobs or choose to leave after experiencing retaliation.
GAP coalition partner Public Citizen is calling on the FDA to stop a trial that compares the effects of diabetes drugs Avandia and Actos.
The group argues that the study, named TIDE, endangers the health of the 16,000 participants it intends to study because "a wealth of data now suggests" that Avandia poses significant risk to the heart. Public Citizen contends that TIDE is "exposing thousands of high-risk patients with diabetes to a drug with an unfavorable safety profile and no clinical advantage over [Actos]."
An interesting article in the New York Times today discusses the rise of the phrase "If You See Something, Say Something," which is prominently seen throughout the New York City subway system, and has spread to other public transportation systems around the world. The slogan also includes the phone number for a counter-terrorism unit.
According to the article, a New York advertising executive wrote the slogan on September 12, 2001, before the Metro Transit Authority, a former client, even asked for a new phrase to respond to the to the World Trade Center attacks. The executive says of the slogan:
“I’m proud of what it’s done and the potential it has to do more. Some things you just can’t stop. But if it is stoppable, and that thought makes someone think twice and say something that stops something, that’s its reason for being.”
Which got us here at GAP thinking, what if this slogan was posted on the wall in workplaces around the world, instead of just in transportation systems?
What if society encouraged workers to blow the whistle on fraud, waste, and bureaucratic carelessness, as enthusiastically as it encouraged people to report a suspicious package?
Food, Inc. examines the myriad problems with food integrity in America. The United States agribusiness model reliably generates more food on less land and at a lower cost than that of any other nation.
However, Food, Inc. takes a look at the cost of the many well-known issues that have arisen because of the factory farm model, including animal cruelty, environmental damage, foodborne illness, and health problems like obesity and diabetes.
The documentary also examines several less-known but no less shocking problems with the food industry, including a revolving door of employment that prevents workers from blowing the whistle on food integrity issues and the millions of dollars poured into marketing and lobbying by agribusiness.
Recent studies have raised concerns about the safety of triclosan, an antibacterial chemical found in many soaps and hand sanitizers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, triclosan is so common in household products that traces of it are found in the urine of 75% of the population. These new studies show that the chemical may disrupt the human endocrine system and help to create bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.
In response to a letter from Representative Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), the FDA (along with the EPA) indicated that they would be taking a closer look at the chemical. Markey responded:
"The proliferation of triclosan in everyday consumer products is so enormous, it is literally in almost every type of product -- most soaps, toothpaste, cosmetics, clothes and toys," Markey said. "It's in our drinking water, it's in our rivers and as a result, it's in our bodies. . . . I don't think a lot of additional data has to be collected in order to make the simple decisions about children's toys and soaps that people use. It clearly is something that creates a danger."
Other countries have banned or restricted usage of triclosan, including members of the European Union. However, the $30 billion U.S. cleaning products industry, which utilizes triclosan in its products, is claiming concerns over the safety of the chemical are unfounded.
The FDA says it is taking a “fresh look” at the chemical, and working quickly "to understand better the health effects" of it, in hopes of developing new regulations.
Now American food producers are urging the FDA to take a stronger stance on fraud, which occurs when food is improperly labeled.
Incidents of this type of fraud have been on the rise. Examples include a store was selling expensive "sheep's milk" cheese that was actually made from cow's milk; cheap, common fish being passed off as expensive catches; and “100% Honey” being made with sugar beets or corn syrup. Food fraud seems to pose a special risk to the fish industry; the National Seafood Inspection Laboratory randomly tested seafood between 1988 and 1997 and found that 34 percent had been sold as a different species.