The Kennebec Journal of Augusta (Maine), July 21, 2014
As consumers, we take it for granted that the food we prepare for ourselves and our families is safe to eat. Unfortunately, all too often, it's not. Every year, food-borne illnesses sicken 48 million Americans (or one out of six), with 128,000 hospitalized and 3,000 killed.
That's why it's promising that federal regulators have proposed requiring all processors of raw ground beef to keep records so retailers can more easily trace the source of any contaminated product. The U.S. Department of Agriculture move is long overdue, and its scope is too narrow, but it recognizes that to depend on the food industry to take these steps voluntarily is to gamble with our collective public health.
A 2011 salmonella outbreak was what exposed the record-keeping gap in the nation's food-safety chain. The illness, which sickened at least 20 people, was linked to ground beef sold at stores in the Scarborough-based Hannaford chain. The company's meat-grinding records met the federal requirements that were in place at the time of the outbreak. Nonetheless, after recalling 17,000 pounds of hamburger, Hannaford voluntarily put in place stricter documentation.
But the USDA has dragged its feet on requiring all stores to improve record-keeping, even though the agency has been aware for years that the practice is critical to the success of food-safety investigations. Grocery stores buy, grind and sell beef from multiple distributors. Without careful records, the USDA has found, it's impossible to trace every bit of that meat to its source and to keep more people from getting sick. More thorough record-keeping is expected to cut by a third the incidence of illnesses from an E. coli strain linked to ground beef.
Since 1998, the USDA has recommended — though not required — that stores keep better beef-grinding records. However, the agency knows that retailers aren't likely to act unless there's a mandate. As a spokesman told the Press Herald in 2012: " ... industry-wide there has not been good adoption of the best practices guidance that we have put out there."
And it's not clear why the proposed USDA regulations would apply only to beef processors and not to businesses that sell other ground meats. Along with ground beef, ground chicken causes more hospitalizations than other meats in the U.S. food supply, according to a 2013 report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group.
What's more, a 10-year U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis of food-borne illnesses revealed that "more deaths were attributed to poultry than to any other commodity," largely from infections caused by listeria or salmonella.
When you sit down to dinner, the last thing you should have to think about is whether what's in front of you will make you sick or even kill you. The USDA rules represent a good start toward improving food safety, and we need to keep the pressure on to ensure that this effort continues at a national level.
The Portsmouth (N.H.) Herald, July 24, 2014
Like a house of cards, America's casino industry has begun its inevitable collapse.
Atlantic City is in free fall with its newest mega casino, Revel, filing for bankruptcy protection, Showboat Atlantic City announcing it will close Aug. 31, and Trump Plaza Hotel Casino closing Sept. 16.
Casino revenue in Atlantic City has fallen by half since 2006, from roughly $6 billion to $3 billion, and the drop is accelerating.
Atlantic City's woes can be found in virtually every state in the nation that thought it had struck it rich with casinos, only to find that what glittered was fool's gold.
Just this week, for example, The Associated Press reported that Margaritaville Casino & Restaurant Biloxi will close Sept. 19, the second Mississippi casino to close this year, and there are reports out of Las Vegas that many mega casinos are on the brink due to excessive debt and declining revenues.
Donald Trump is no longer associated with Trump Plaza, but he certainly knows the casino business and his outlook is grim because casinos have proliferated beyond the public's ability to support them. In an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Trump noted: "What's happening in Atlantic City is happening all over the country. The United States is becoming one big casino."
The Inquirer quoted Trump saying state governments were wrong in thinking casinos are a panacea for revenues because, "it's not the panacea when everyone is doing it."
We can thank our lucky stars that the New Hampshire House of Representatives was able to defeat casino proposals, in one case this year by a single vote.
Now, what casino opponents have warned of all along is becoming abundantly clear. Casinos are a bad bet for New Hampshire. Perhaps the slew of bankruptcies across the country will cause even ardent casino backers like Sen. Lou D'Allesandro and Gov. Maggie Hassan to finally give it a rest.
Now that the facts regarding large Las Vegas-style casinos have become irrefutable, it is time to address charitable gaming casinos. These are proliferating like mushrooms, and like this common fungus, they thrive in dimly lit places and do their best to avoid the sunlight of public scrutiny.
With little regulation and less enforcement, charity gaming operates with impunity. There's no way of knowing whether charities are getting all the money they are supposed to receive from these games because it's all done on the honor system, with the charitable gaming houses self-regulating and reporting. The state is also at a loss to know whether it is receiving taxes it is due.
If we are going to have charitable gaming, we need to increase the resources of the New Hampshire Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission to regulate, audit and enforce rules to ensure that charities get the money they are due, the state gets its tax revenue and that we don't wind up with large casinos through the incremental growth of charitable gaming.
To be clear, the Portsmouth Herald is not anti-gambling. Whether to gamble is a choice best left to individual men and women. We're against the state funding essential services on casino revenues that have proven, in every casino state, to fall far short of what is promised, leaving the taxpayers on the hook for a government grown fat on unsustainable gambling money. And if we are going to have charitable gaming, let's be sure charities and the state get the money the law says they should receive.