If we're going to globalize the food we eat and wish to be safe

  1. The incidence of malignant meat imports reaching market can be diminished, I don't doubt, by a greatly expanded FDA. But no one should be deluded that such last-minute interception is remotely equivalent to having our inspectors in the plants. Eating Chungking chicken, if it's really from Chungking, requires a leap of faith that eating Iowa beef, if it's really from Iowa, does not. As Ronald Reagan said of Soviet missiles, so we should say of Chungking chicken: Trust, but verify. The FDA, having no access to China, isn't the best vehicle for verification, and the Chinese food-safety bureaucracy, based on the caliber of Chinese exports, leaves something to be desired, too.
    Which is to say, if we're going to globalize the food we eat and wish to be safe, we need to get serious about globalization. The regulations we enacted under Theodore Roosevelt, who established the FDA (partly in response to the outcry Sinclair's novel prompted), need to become part of the rules of the World Trade Organization, which in turn needs real inspectors to enforce those rules. Granted, this is a utopian proposal, but ultimately it is the only sensible response to the borderless business utopia we have now: a global economy devoid of the regulations nations once enacted to protect their citizens when their economies were merely national.
    It should come as no surprise if food-safety standards emerge -- slowly -- as some of the first real global regulations. The FDA was one of the earliest national regulatory agencies -- partly because meat crossed state lines (Chicago, recall, was hog butcher to the world), partly because Sinclair's novel made millions of Americans anxious about what they ate. Sinclair had intended his tale of life in a slaughterhouse to spark outrage about the indignities inflicted on meatpackers, but readers couldn't get past his descriptions of the meat. "I aimed for the nation's heart," Sinclair said, "and hit its stomach."