Friday, February 06, 2009

Poor Logic in Blame Shifting

From CNN:
Almer's family is suing the Peanut Corporation of America, whose plant in Blakely, Georgia, has been identified as the source of the outbreak. The FDA is urging that every product produced there since the beginning of 2007 be thrown away.

Food safety experts said the underlying cause of the problem, however, is that the century-old system of regulation is broken. In this case, the experts said, the federal government failed to oversee the safety of products coming out of the Blakely plant and was slow to identify it as the source of the salmonella.
My complaint is that you cannot blame someone (i.e. the FDA/federal government) for something they could not be capable of doing. For example, I do not blame Danny Devito for not being able to dunk a basketball. To ascribe blame, it requires one to have the responsibility and capability, neither of which fall at the feet of the FDA when it comes to food poisoning.

Both responsibility and capability do lie at the feet of the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), so they are the only ones deserving of blame. Accidents happen, but it remains imperitive that PCA is held accountable for upholding their end of contracts, which probably indicate that their products be safe for consumers. They have no incentive to allow salmonella poisoning to occur, a big incentive to stop it, and part of that incentive derives from the ability of those wronged to have legal recourse, which we see already exists by the Almer family suing.

PCA may have knowingly taken a risk and committed fraud in the process, and if they did they deserve to suffer the consequences via lawsuits and criminal charges, but that does not imply more regulation is needed.

Since those employed by the federal government are far short of omnipresent beings with perfect knowledge of the future, it is complete nonsense to suggest they should have prevented this outbreak. You simply cannot regulate away misdeeds or mistakes, only allow for legal recourse in their occurence. The acknowledgment of their own inabilities to regulate "effectively" coupled with the declining incidence of food borne illnesses is suggestive that they are not a very important or even necessary player in the game for public health and safety. The FDA is probably trying to take blame so that they can be granted greater funding/power/prestige in the federal bureaucracy (zero-sum) game. Blaming the FDA is an implicit grab for more responsibility, and will simply wind up taking it away from the PCA, who could use the FDA for cover in a defense.

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