By Art Caplan [cross-posted from his NBCNews Vitals column]
Two big events recently took place in the world of food: The Food and Drug Administration decreed that genetically engineered salmon wouldn’t harm the environment and McDonald’s announced that its McRib sandwich is back on the menu.
The FDA’s announcement paves the way for the first approval of a genetically engineered animal for humans to eat – and it was met with a good deal of highly critical wailing and groaning by Consumer’s Union, National Geographic and many other advocacy groups who are wary of genetically engineered food.
The McRib’s return was greeted with a few snickers by late night comedians and overwhelmingly happy faces on the millions of Americans who eat at one of the 13,000 McDonald’s restaurants from Maine to Hawaii every day. This, as my grandmother would have said in Yiddish, is “fakakta”—completely screwy.
If you like salmon, and I do, should you worry much about the safety of eating genetically engineered salmon? No. The FDA said it could not find any valid scientific reason to prohibit the sale of the fish.
If you like the McRib, and I do, should you worry a lot about eating it? Oh yeah.
By Scott Burris
Between budget cuts and “nanny state” attacks, it’s easy to feel that public health is a perennial political loser. As for the courts, the first two constitutional amendments alone are throwing up enough barriers to reasonable health regulation to keep us on the defensive for years. In this series of posts about how public health protagonists are faring in these politico-legal contests, I will criticize our side. There’s a great deal we do wrong, or at least fail to do well, and those failures are the first place to look if we want to stop being under-appreciated, underfunded and over-invalidated. But before I put on the hair shirt, I will don satin with a post devoted to the very positive things there are to say about public health law and those who theorize and study it.
Make a list of the biggest health threats that have faced our people in the last fifty years. That list will certainly include lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, motor vehicle crashes, gun violence, communicable diseases, lead poisoning, mental illness and, more recently, drug overdose and obesity. Now consider what law has done or is doing to address these threats.