Lewis Black on Taco Bell meat

Taco Bell behaved poorly during an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in 2006 that was linked to lettuce.

Who knows what’s in the meat. 12 per cent is a secret. Lewis Black explains on last night’s Daily Show.

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Effective communication: Lewis Black and the nanny state

As the U.S. Senate votes on a food safety bill this morning, and with the monotonous repetition of food safety rules for Thanksgiving, Lewis Black provides his own risk communication advice on The Daily Show for those who want to regulate smoking, airport screening, toys in fast-food meals, and banning circumcision.

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‘Food safety in Canada is on the upper end of mediocre’

As a Canadian in America, watching the health-care advertisements, warning that any new U.S. system will be socialized like in Canada is as informative as watching a Michael Moore documentary.

Both are widely inaccurate.

Same with the orgy of listeria-in-Canada coverage following the release of the Weatherill report yesterday. Almost all of the commentary and analysis borders on the banal (the dictionary says banal means “so lacking in originality as to be obvious and boring,” so for once I used a word properly) but a few things stand out:

Weatherill zeroed in on a "vacuum in senior leadership" among government officials at the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that caused "confusion and weak decision-making."

Like a risk communication vacuum; covered that in the 1997 book, Mad Cows and Mother’s Milk.

Rob Cribb of the Toronto Star got things right when he summarized things this way:

Twenty-two dead.
Hundreds sickened.
Six months of inquiry.
Nearly $3 million in public money.

That’s $3 million in addition to all the publicly-funded salaries of bureaucrats sitting around figuring out what not to do and how to cover their own assess. The Prime Minister could have called the bureaucrats on the carpet and said – stop messing around, come clean on who knew what when and fix this. Instead, stand-up comedian wannabe and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz got to make jokes about the 22 dead people. And he still has his job.

The front-line public health types at the local and provincial levels seemed to know what they were doing. The feds at three different agencies – Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Canada, and the Public Health Agency of Canada – continually got in the way and messed things up.

Of course that didn’t stop the politicians and bureaucrats from praising the Canadian food safety system in the early days of the outbreak – when they had no clue what they were talking about. Like health care, it seems that the Canadian model is to tell citizens repeatedly they have the best system in the world, and they believe it.

Or, as Cribb said this morning in the Star,

At virtually every stage of the outbreak, it seems things could have – should have – gone differently in a food safety system repeatedly hailed by government officials as "one of the safest in the world."

Rick Holley, a microbiologist at the University of Manitoba and member of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s external advisory panel, responded with,

"I get so annoyed when I hear them say that. The food safety system in Canada is on the upper end of being mediocre."

Like health care.

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