By Kevin Martin
In any functioning society, the protection of those who cannot care for themselves, especially children, must be a priority. In failing to prioritize our children, we not only risk serious long-term damage to the future generations, but we also steer treacherously close to becoming a regressive society in which unquenchable selfishness corrupts us beyond repair. Unfortunately, our most powerful institutions—the federal government and several major corporations—have failed to live up to this basic standard of safeguarding our country's children. On Feb. 4, a House subcommittee on economic and consumer policy announced in a report that four major baby food producers knowingly sold baby food products that contained elevated levels of toxic heavy metals. These toxins included lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury, all of which can cause serious long-term damage to infants and toddlers who consume them. These critical products contained 10 and sometimes 100 times the legal amount that is allowed in water bottles.
And why are water bottles the default standard for the legal amount of toxic heavy metals? It is because they are one of the products that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates. Shockingly, the FDA does not set legal standards for heavy metals in baby food, nor does it require the testing of these products before they are sold to parents who have unknowingly been feeding their children toxic mush.
This story is serious, and now that it has become a media sensation regulation will hopefully be put into place. The issue, according to the congressional report, is that the FDA was made aware of this situation at the latest in the summer of 2019. This means that a federal agency knew that children were literally being poisoned, but nothing was visibly done to prevent it for nearly two years.
How then has our country come to a point where children are knowingly being endangered by large corporations and those in power fail to bring it to a stop? Corruption can emerge in government institutions and corporations when professionals switch from public sector jobs to private sector ones, where the real money can be had. This revolving door between the public and private sectors produces a dangerous incentive for those who work in government. If they ever plan to leave public service for a better paying job, they had better not scrutinize their potential employers, or they very well might face unemployment. But I believe this is only a minor issue compared to what has truly caused the dire situation we face to come about. And that underlying cause is this country's collapsed belief in the government's ability to do good.
Since the presidency of Ronald Reagan, there has been a consensus among many, especially on the right, that the government isn’t a genuine force for good and that it really only gets in the way of people living their lives. This is best encapsulated in Reagan's famous joke, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the Government, and I'm here to help." While this is funny and certainly true in some instances, the notion that the government is only a force for the bad is a dangerous idea to hold: it prevents the government from performing its most basic duties of establishing justice, promoting the general welfare and securing the blessings of liberty. These duties are not only in the service of ourselves but also for our posterity, our children.
I believe that the reason our children have been poisoned by their food is at least partly due to this notion that government is only a force for the bad. This ideology, which thrives in many political circles, designates government action, especially regulation, as a sort of twisted evil. According to this line of thinking, the free market will simply regulate itself. While this may be the case for inefficiencies, it certainly is not so for moral cases, as we have seen with the baby food calamity. Surely, it would not be argued that the market alone could safeguard the production of clean baby food. The idea, presumably, would be that parents would cease to purchase baby products that have been shown to have dangerous toxins in them. However, without the government to acquire and distribute this information, it would require the safety of our children to be sacrificed. Only after many children had been stricken by lead poisoning would people know which products had an excess amount of lead in them. Such a solution is not only absurd, but also immoral.
Going forward, it must be understood that government action can be directed towards the good. We must work to cultivate an ideology that does not necessitate the dissolving of our governmental institutions. This task is particularly urgent for the political right, where this extreme distrust originated. There are actions which the government should have the sole responsibility to perform in order to promote the general welfare of the people. Most of all, we as a nation ought to strive towards securing the purity of our children's food and hold those who would do otherwise to account.