Even though the global economic crisis has to be at the top of the incoming administration's agenda, President-elect Obama has signaled he isn't forgetting the other reason so many people voted for change: to do the few essential things we can't do for ourselves. As he put it in a press conference recently, "I think what the American people want more than anything is just common-sense, smart government. They don't want ideology. They don't want bickering. They don't want sniping. They want action and they want effectiveness."
That says it for all of us who believe it's past time to restore credibility to crucial government functions. Obviously, the new White House team must shore up our battered financial security. But close behind is what we at Environmental Working Group call hometown security. We need good policymakers and regulators, acting on the basis of the best science, to assure that we have pure food, clean water, clean air, safe household products, clean, reliable energy and ample jobs devoted to realizing all those basic requirements of a civilized society.
The current bunch of political appointees running the regulatory agencies don't seem to know or care that the taxpayers, not the industries they oversee, have been paying their salaries. Take the leadership at the federal Food and Drug Administration.
It's been a long time since the FDA front office could make a statement about a food or drug problem without sending our doubletalk detectors (that's the polite term) into red alert.
The latest episode to kick the meter into the red zone started with an Associated Press report last Tuesday that that the FDA had discovered traces of the industrial chemical melamine and a related compound, cyanuric acid, in a few U.S- made infant formula samples. It's hardly surprising that the story, sketchy as it was, made headlines around the globe: everybody who hasn't been living on Mars for the last couple of years knows about the massive melamine tragedy unfolding in China, caused by unscrupulous manufacturers who deliberately spiked baby formula supplies with the chemical to boost their apparent protein levels.
Melamine, a plastics component, is toxic in its own right and when combined with cyanuric acid can cause kidney stones and kidney failure. To date, according to Time Magazine, more than 60,000 Chinese babies have been sickened and at least four have died from drinking tainted formula. The scandal is still spreading as reports surface almost daily that melamine has turned up in Chinese food or animal feed exports.