In the previous episode, I talked to Phil Howard of Michigan State University about concentration in the food industry. Afterwards, I realised I had been so taken up with what he was telling me that I forgot to ask him one crucial question.
Is there any effect of concentration on public health or food safety?
It seems intuitively obvious that if you have long food chains, dependent on only a few producers, there is the potential for very widespread outbreaks. That is exactly what we are seeing in the current outbreaks of dangerous E. coli on romaine lettuce and Salmonella in eggs. But it is also possible that big industrial food producers both have the capital to invest in food safety and face stiffer penalties when things go wrong.
Are small producers and short food chains better? Marc Bellemare, at the University of Minnesota, has uncovered a strong correlation between some food-borne illnesses and the number of farmers’ markets relative to the population.
Phil thinks one answer is greater decentralization. There’s no good reason why all the winter lettuce and spinach in America should come from a tiny area around Yuma, Arizona. Marc says consumer education would help; we need to handle the food we buy with more attention to keeping it safe. Both solutions will take quite large changes in behaviour, by government and by ordinary people.
Right now, it probably isn’t possible to say with any certainty whether one system is inherently safer than the other. But even asking the question raises some interesting additional questions. If you have answers, or even suggestions, let me know.
Banner photo, norovirus. Cover photo, E. coli. Both public domain to the best of my knoweldge.
I can’t help but think about analogizing the mass production and distribution of food to that of social media (again). Replace food producers with social media and you’ve got large mega-producers like Facebook and Twitter at one end and smaller scale indie producers at the other. Surely outbreaks of issues with democracy, bulllying, racism, doxxing, etc. will happen all around, but when they happen on the larger platforms, then far more people are affected.
From an economic standpoint it would be nice to have more significant studies to see what the overall pieces of large and small producers are (as well as for the distribution piece too). What is the ultimate equilibrium point for overall cost versus public health? What would it look like theoretically?
More than 100,000 Americans give birth in their 40s each year, but what does that mean for the health of their pregnancies and their babies?
How this phenomenon translates into absolute, rather than relative, risk, however, is a bit thorny. A large study published in 2018, for instance, found that among women who had children between 34 and 47, 2.2 percent developed breast cancer within three to seven years after they gave birth (among women who never had children, the rate was 1.9 percent). Over all, according to the American Cancer Society, women between 40 and 49 have a 1.5 percent chance of developing breast cancer.
The rates here are so low as to be nearly negligible on their face. Why bother reporting it?
November 14, 2019 at 06:49PM
Originally bookmarked this article on November 12, 2019 at 06:53PM
Once in a while, in this space, we offer you an episode of another podcast that we think is pretty aligned with our goals here at On the Media. This week, we’re offering you the first episode of a new podcast from WNYC Studios, called The Stakes. The angle is: we built the society we've got. And maybe it's time to build a new one.
I knew lead paint was a huge problem, but didn’t know about some of the early history about why. It’s painful that this is still such a problem in current society. It’s deplorable that corporations can get away with exploiting society with externalities like this.
On the Media is one of the few podcasts that I don’t mind when they sneak other episodes of material into their feed because they have such a solid editorial voice of what does or doesn’t appear in their feed.
Despite steadily declining rates of cancer deaths over the past two decades, cancer remains responsible for 1 in every 6 deaths worldwide. It’s a scourge. So when, this week, an Israeli company called Accelerated Evolution Biotechnologies captured the news cycle with promises of a complete cure for cancer within the year, the story caught fire.
The company’s technology is called “MuTaTo” — that's multi-target toxin. And, to judge from the news media this week, it seems vetted, verified and veering us all toward a cancer-free future. Reports began in the Jerusalem Post, but quickly took off, making their way into various Murdoch-owned publications like FOX and the New York Post and landing in local news outlets around the country and the globe.
A couple days into the fanfare, the skeptics started coming out: for one thing, as oncologist David Gorski points out in his blog “Respectful Insolence,” the claims are based on experiments with mice: no human trials have yet started. For another, they haven’t been sufficiently peer reviewed. In fact, the company won’t share its research, claiming it can’t afford the expense. The too-good-to-be-true story appears to be just that, built on PR puffery. But who can resist a good cancer cure?
With Mutato in mind, for this week’s podcast extra, we revisit our Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook: Health News edition, with Gary Schwitzer, publisher & founder of HealthNewsReview.org.
I was ten years into a career as a user experience designer making new digital products when diabetes blew my family's life apart. The complexity and relentlessness of the burden of care that came with my youngest daughter's diagnosis at 1.5 years old, were overwhelming. I learned that people with diabetes are always 10 minutes of inattention away from a coma. Run your blood sugar too low and risk brain injury or death. Run too high and you do cumulative damage to your organs, nerves and eyes. And as a designer and hardware hacker I couldn't accept the limitations and poor User Experience I was seeing in all the tools we were given to deal with it.
Then I discovered Nightscout (a way to monitor my daughter's blood sugar in real time from anywhere in the world) and Loop (a DIY open sourced, artificial pancreas system that checks blood sugar and adjusts insulin dosing every five minutes 24/7) and the #WeAreNotWaiting community that produced them. For the first time I saw the kinds of tools I needed and true power of solutions that come from the people living with the problem. When I learned about the Tidepool's project to take Loop through FDA approval and bring it to anyone who wants to use it to give the same freedom and relief that we've experienced from it, I had to get involved. Now we are taking an open source software through regulatory approval and using real-life user data from the DIY community for our clinical trial in a process that is turning heads in the industry. We'll get into the many ways this story demonstrates ways that user driven design, open source models and a counterculturally collaborative approach with regulators are shifting the incentives and changing the landscape toward one more favorable to innovation.
Here’s the video I mentioned yesterday. Those deeply enmeshed in the IndieWeb movement and many of its subtleties will get a ringing sense of déjà vu as they watch it and realize there’s a lot of overlap with how (and why) Matt Lumpkin is working to help those with type 1 diabetes and the IndieWeb. Perhaps there are some lessons to be learned here?
Syndicated copies to:
There was an eerie and surprisingly large overlap of a lot of what Matt Lumpkin said in his talk this morning and the IndieWeb movement. If you just change the disease from Type 1 Diabetes to Social Media, there are a tremendous number of similarities between the two approaches of problems to be solved in terms of giving people agency, ownership of their data, the silo nature of the big corporations in the space, and the lack of solid inter-operability and standards.
I can’t wait for Chuck Chugumulung and the gang to get the video for this week up on YouTube so I can share it with colleagues.
Based on what I’ve heard, it might not be a completely terrible thing to class what the IndieWeb is working on fixing as a broad public health issue–but in its case a mental health one instead of a pancreas and diet related one.
VANCOUVER, Wash. — Amber Gorrow is afraid to leave her house with her infant son because she lives at the epicenter of Washington state’s worst measles outbreak in more than two decades. Born eight weeks ago, Leon is too young to get his first measles shot, putting him at risk forthe highly contagious respiratory virus, which can be fatal in small children.