Pangasius and the “Folly of Protectionism”
Wednesday,28 July,2010 11:43:46
It was in this very space seven days ago that the ills of a “business model that includes stifling competition by attempting to regulate imports out of the market with exaggerated attacks and twisted food safety claims” was discussed as one that “threatens the integrity of an entire industry.”
And here we are not a week later and the Catfish Farmers of America can be found in the press insisting there are “alarming health dangers” associated with their competition.
As the late Ronald Reagan said, “There you go again.”
Perhaps it’s time we call a spade a spade and lay waste to the rhetorical jousting and slick lobbying and just shine a light on what’s happening here.
Let’s start with two facts. One: imported pangasius is a delicious, healthy fish, safely imported from international trading partners. Two: domestic farm raised catfish is a delicious, healthy fish, safely harvested in the U.S.
Those are the facts.
Having said that—no one believes the Catfish Farmers of America actually think this is a “health and safety issue.” No one. Everyone knows the game they are playing. Everyone.
When they fain distress over an issue made even more “shocking in the face of the new report compiled by...Exponent that exposes the alarming health dangers”— it’s an embarrassing window on a special interest group that appears to either think the audience is dim or special interest group that has truly lost all perspective.
“Shock,” over a report they commissioned? “Alarming health dangers,” from a study whose supporting material finds bacterial issues in the domestic and imported product that were “not significantly different?”
The proponents of protectionism say they’re “not asking for imported catfish to be treated any differently than (catfish raised in the United States)”—no kidding. They’ve both been overseen by FDA since the dawn of regulation. They never have been treated differently.
This thin faux food safety argument continues to represent a dangerous tactic that could hurt the entire seafood community in order to stifle a single aspect of competition.
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In explaining what he called the “folly of protectionism”, again, Ronald Reagan said, “over the past 200 years, not only has the argument against tariffs and trade barriers won nearly universal agreement among economists, but it has also proven itself in the real world where we have seen freetrading nations prosper, while protectionist countries fall behind.”
Integrity be damned
Thursday,22 July,2010 08:14:49
The integrity of the seafood industry doesn’t lie solely in the marketing of a single fish or the sustainability story of a single species. It lies with the ability of a community of competitors to look outside the industry and confidently say – yes, that’s how we do business over here and we stand behind both our messaging and our methods.
The cola wars have been a well know battleground for both product and marketing innovation. But never have we heard Coke erroneously claim Pepsi is a dangerous product that could sicken consumers. Could Coke commission some quasi-science about sugar content, dyes and artificial sweeteners and then go guns blazing after Pepsi with a half cocked misinformation campaign? Sure, it could. But would it? No.
Coke knows false allegations, exaggerations and spin would strike at the integrity of the whole soft drink industry and it’s smarter than that.
Some members of the domestic catfish industry continue to rely on a worn out strategy of distorting science and abusing public trust in the discussion about food safety by targeting foreign competition with unsubstantiated public health claims and, quite frankly, xenophobic attacks. This strategy is and has been an embarrassment to the seafood community and continues to undermine the whole industry’s integrity.
It doesn’t help the rest of the industry when major newspapers like The Wall Street Journal make note of the domestic catfish industry’s “protectionism veiled as food safety” (07.14.09) or comment that, “this Keystone protectionism would be funny if it weren’t so serious” (05.20.10). Likewise, having the Washington Post mock the domestic catfish strategy by leading its reporting with “what follows is a fish tale, though this one is actually true” (03.11.08) does nothing but make the whole industry look bad.
A business model that includes stifling competition by attempting to regulate imports out of the market with exaggerated attacks and twisted food safety claims is one that threatens the integrity of an entire industry.
If not careful, reaping what we sow can be a painful process.
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Mining for misinformation in the Gulf
Thursday,8 July,2010 11:56:07
Profiting off of tragedy or at least attempting to is a theme we’ve seen before with the Gulf oil spill. Call it cashing in on a crisis, call it profiteering, call it whatever you want, but it’s going on and it’s not just the big name regulars we see in this genre these days.
Now we’re seeing folks like this blogger who describes himself as an Industrial Disaster Threat Forecaster (say that 3 times fast) who’s hocking his services alongside claims that oysters from the Gulf have been found to leak oil onto dinner plates and that Red Lobster took contaminated shrimp off its menu.
No commercially harvested Gulf oysters are leaking oil onto dinner plates and Red Lobster absolutely did not pull contaminated shrimp off its menu—wrong on both counts.
But what’s accuracy when you’re trying to make a buck off tragedy—right?
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Can You Trust Your Television Doctor?
Tuesday,6 July,2010 10:28:31
The economy may be down but the television doctor business is booming these days. You can’t turn the channel with out bumping into characters like The Doctors or Dr. Oz. It was only last week that both programs took home Daytime Emmy Awards. The Doctors won an Emmy for best informative talk show, while Dr. Mehmet Oz won for best talk show host.
But is what's good for the syndicated television business good for public health? Regrettably, after watching some recent programs, it’s pretty clear that the answer is no.
Readers of this blog know we’ve had a beef with Dr. Oz and some of his quasi-science for quite some time now...We've more or less been sending him letters about his January 2010 program on fish and mercury for months, only to get a perfunctory answer from his lawyer instead of real medical answers to our legitimate questions that are based on independent science.
More recently, we sent a letter to the producers of The Doctors after Dr. Travis Stork made an uninformed offhand comment about fish and mercury that could lead the audience to believe advice specifically targeted at women who are pregnant was meant for the overall population. After about three weeks, we're still waiting for an answer.
And how about that bastion of informed science The View, the talk show produced by long-time ABC television personality Barbara Walters. Last week, the program had Jeremy Piven on as a guest, and when it did, the hosts simply sat back and let the actor repeat his scientifically unsound charges about fish and mercury without asking any hard questions. In response, NFI sent a letter to Patrick Ignozzi, the program's Senior Producer, asking for an opportunity to talk to the program about Piven's comments in an effort to correct the record.
Ignozzi simply didn't respond. Instead, producers chose to have Dr. Steven Lamm, the program's in-house doctor, on to answer a question from the hosts about Piven's claims. Lamm walked down the same road Stork did on The Doctors, claiming that mercury in fish is something the entire population needs to be concerned about, despite the fact the the FDA has said, "for most people, the risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a concern."
So what's the lesson here? When you're looking for sound advice, perhaps it's better to shut off the television and talk to a doctor or dietitian.
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