Thursday, November 24, 2005

Shriek! Vegetables, fruits cause more US food illnesses

What will the food freaks eat now?

Contaminated fruits and vegetables are causing more food-borne illness among Americans than raw chicken or eggs, consumer advocates said a in report released on Monday. Common sources of food illnesses include various bacteria such as salmonella and E.coli that can infect humans and animals then make their way into manure used to fertilize plants. The practice of using manure fertilizer is more common in Latin America, which has become a growing source of fresh produce for the United States.

"Although poultry has historically been responsible for far more Salmonella infections, in the most recent years ... produce seems to be catching up," the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) said, calling for tougher federal food safety standards.

In fact, vegetables and fruits triggered 31 outbreaks from 2002 to 2003, compared with 29 for chicken and other poultry, according to the report.

Overall, contaminated tomatoes, sprouts and other produce made 28,315 people sick during 554 outbreaks from 1990 to 2003 -- 20 percent of all cases CSPI analyzed.

Chicken made 14,729 people sick in 476 outbreaks, and eggs were responsible for 10,847 illnesses from 329 outbreaks, according to the group.

"Pathogens can adhere to the rough surfaces of fruits and vegetables, so consumers should take precautions, such as washing produce under running water," the report said, adding people should "still eat plenty of produce."

Food-related infections cause a range of problems from discomfort to severe dehydration and death, but most problematic organisms can be killed when food is cooked long enough at high enough temperatures.

Not all people exposed to an outbreak get sick, but those who do can experience vomiting, diarrhea and fever, among other problems for about a week. Some experience no symptoms but can infect others.

The report found seafood was the largest cause of outbreaks but led to fewer illnesses than other foods. There have been 899 such outbreaks between 1990 and 2003, leading to 9,312 illnesses.

CSPI officials urged federal regulators to do more to protect the nation's food supply -- a job currently divided among at least 10 U.S. agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture.

One large, independent agency would reduce coordination troubles, conflicting standards and other problems that make the government slow to act, the group said.

Other changes could be made in the meantime, it added.

"FDA should require growers to limit the use of manure to times and products where it poses no risk. And packers and shippers should mark packaging to ensure easy traceback when fruits and vegetables are implicated in an outbreak," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, CSPI's food safety director.

CSPI's database includes reports mostly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other sources, including state health departments and medical journals, make up 7 percent of the data.



On October 20 the U.N.'s cultural wing, UNESCO (the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization), adopted an insidious treaty to preserve the world's "cultural security" - a locution concocted by U.N. Chinese delegates in support of the proposition that culturally weak nations should be able to protect against the influence of culturally powerful ones by barring cultural imports and subsidizing their own culture. The vote in Paris was 148-2, with only the United States and Israel opposed.

This latest French- and Canadian-instigated folie by UNESCO, with its history of corruption and anti-Americanism, could ignite the mother of all culture wars and shackle free cultural interchange. The agreement also presents yet another challenge to the sovereignty of democratic nation-states, insofar as it advances the illiberal principle that a collective of governments knows and may determine what is best for humanity at large.

The pact, disingenuously titled the "Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions," is larded with doublespeak, which columnist George F. Will has deciphered. Cutting to the quick, Will observes that the treaty in fact enables countries to " 'protect' their 'cultural expressions' against diversity arising from cultural imports that can be stigmatized as threats to social cohesion. . . ." Thus it gives the prestigious U.N. seal of approval to what Louise Oliver, the U.S. ambassador to UNESCO, cites as the "cultural exception" promoted in recent years by some nations: the notion that cultural goods can be exempted from free-trade agreements. To justify such protectionism, the treaty declares that "cultural activities, goods and services" must not be viewed "as solely having commercial value." On a loftier note sounded by France's culture minister, as quoted in the Oct. 14 Wall Street Journal, "Works of art and the spirit must not be considered to be goods."

Of course the cultural goods actually targeted for exclusion are those of the culturally prolific, exuberant, and contagious U.S., and the agreement gives standing to nations to restrict or thwart competition from American cultural imports, such as movies, TV programs, CDs, print publications - or even such products as California wines.

But trade decisions based on cultural insecurity, xenophobia, and opportunistic metaphysics can cut any number of ways. All cultural hell - a chain reaction of retaliation and counter-retaliation involving multiple nations - could break loose. August French "works of the spirit" might not be considered worthy of import by, say, China or Iran. And what if the films, for instance, of Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese were forbidden in French and Chinese theaters? Why would the U. S. not counter with a blackout, on the American screen and cable TV, of the work of Olivier Assayas and Eric Rohmer, or Zhang Yimou and Wei Yuming? Zut alors! The mind reels with the potential of a Planetary-Wide, Multi-Media Neo-"Book-Burning" to add fire to the flames of existing international conflict.

Historically viewed, cultural trade barriers could also cause civilizational anemia. "Trade," as the editors of the New York Sun noted zestily, "meant Plato wasn't restricted to Greece, Algebra to the Middle East . . . and . . . why Brazilian music, French wine, and African costumes can all be found in downtown Brooklyn." Moreover, freedom itself is spawned by unfettered trade, from which people learn about individual liberty and rule of law. This pact abets tyranny, for as the Sun warns, it gives cover "to the world's monarchs, theocrats, and dictators to ban access to materials speaking of freedom and rights in the name of protecting their culture."

The agreement also corrodes political process: That is, it furthers the long-range transformation of world governance favored by those whom Hudson Institute fellow John Fonte calls "transnational progressives" (U.N. and other NGO international bureaucrats, activist officials and academics within nation-states, global corporate heads, et al.). In his aptly named National Interest essay "Democracy's Trojan Horse," Fonte shows how these elites, neither elected by nor accountable to any self-governing citizens, work in tandem to establish a "transnational regime."

This brave new world order is being established via "global governance," the adoption by organizations such as the U.N. of a vast overlay of political arrangements that transcend national borders, such as international agreements, rules, and laws. (One such arrangement currently being promoted by the U.N. and EU, similar in thrust to the cultural diversity pact, could result in the regulation and censorship of the U.S.-created Internet by foreign powers.)

The grand transnational project is fundamentally coercive, for its modus operandi is to bypass and to constrain - gradually to devitalize entirely - the national sovereignty of liberal democratic states. Indeed, the advance of transnational rule, as embodied in the adoption of this cultural diversity convention, could give rise to a new totalitarianism of unfathomable scope. Free people everywhere must reject this duplicitous pact. UNESCO bureaucrats and their cohort have no right to decide which cultural goods are worthy of acceptance, and which are alien and invasive; nor may they be permitted surreptitiously to subvert freedom and to co-opt the democratic processes within nation-states that ensure individual liberty.

Although the U.S. delegation steadfastly opposed this convention, it should have walked away from the conference when the treaty was approved, as recommended by the Heritage Foundation. In addition, America should now withdraw altogether from UNESCO, as it did once before in 1984. It is perverse for this country to donate the noose to its hangmen. Far better uses can be found for the many millions of dollars the U.S., as UNESCO's largest benefactor, has been pouring into the organization since the Bush Administration led America to rejoin it.


Thought police stalk the World Wide Web

The people who gave you the corruption of the oil-for-food program want to run the internet. The organisation that routinely puts such stellar international citizens as China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Sudan on its Human Rights Commission wants to manage the information superhighway. The United Nations wants to operate the World Wide Web. No, this is not a joke. Last week, the UN-sponsored World Summit on the Information Society convened in Tunis to advance this goal. The ostensible purpose of the summit is to make information and communication technologies accessible to all citizens of planet Earth. That noble effort, however, has morphed into a subsidiary struggle to wrest oversight of the web from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, ICANN, the non-profit group that renders the critical decisions that make the virtual world turn. The grievance of some nations is that although ICANN has an international advisory body, the US Government retains veto power over its decisions.

A historical note about why that is so: Four decades ago, the Pentagon called for the creation of a decentralised communications network that would allow it to maintain command and control in case of Soviet attack. To be robust enough to withstand nuclear war, the network needed to contain multiple nodes and connections so that if some locations and databases were destroyed, surviving locations would retain the ability to communicate and still possess the knowledge of the entire network. The decentralisation of knowledge and research across the Defence Department's ARPANET became the technological and philosophical framework for the internet. That is to say, the internet is an American creation. The US Government, however, does not today "control" the internet. The unmistakable trajectory of internet oversight under US leadership has been towards privatisation, with the Government increasingly shedding its pre-eminent role from the days of ARPANET.

Private industry makes every essential decision affecting the web today, from providing service to individual users to running the servers and making the connections that form the backbone of the internet. And then there is ICANN, the internet equivalent of a central processing unit, which approves suffixes for web addresses, maps uniform resource locators, or URLs, across internet addresses and maintains a global directory of website owners. Among the 21 members of ICANN's board of directors are citizens of Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, France, Germany, Ghana, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, Portugal, Senegal, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States - hardly a sign of US domination. Meanwhile, the US Government has committed itself to completing the process of fully privatising ICANN. So what's the problem? Resentment of the United States and fear of the free flow of information.

Some members of the WSIS Working Group on Internet Governance who want to halt progress towards internet privatisation and place the web under the control of UN bureaucrats: China, Cuba, Iran, Saudi Arabia. Knowledge is power. Totalitarian systems are based on the concentration of power. The internet disseminates knowledge and decentralises power. If ever there was a weapon that threatened the existence of authoritarian regimes, it is the internet. The World Summit on the Information Society is a digital Trojan horse. Under the guise of making the internet more accessible to more people, the leaders of some of the world's most repressive regimes want to limit access and control information.

The system of internet oversight is far from perfect. More can and should be done to enhance international co-operation and create measures of public accountability for ICANN. Politicising the internet's oversight and creating bureaucratic governance where none now exists is, however, a monumental step in the wrong direction.


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