Three Cheers For The Feds

TO WIT

September 12, 1993|By DAVE BARRY

TC There are times when, as a taxpayer, I just have to put my head between my legs and weep with joy at the benefits I am receiving from the federal government ("Official Motto: This Motto Alone Cost $13.2 Billion").

You'll feel the same way when I share some news items sent in by alert readers concerning government agencies servicing the public in ways that the public could never have thought of itself. (As is often the case when discussing the government, I need to stress that I am not making any of these items up.)

Our first item concerns:

Ear candles.

You may recall that a few months back I wrote a column about ear candles, an old home remedy consisting of wax-covered cotton cones that you insert into your ears, after which you set them (the cones) on fire. This is supposed to create a draft that sucks the wax out of your ears. I got a lot of letters in response to that column; many people claimed they've used ear candles for years with great results; some people claimed the whole thing is a fraud, and all the "earwax" is actually produced by the candles.

Then several alert readers sent me an article from the July 29 Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, headlined: Federal Agents Seize Ear Candles in Raid. The article states that on July 28, U.S. marshals and agents of the Food and Drug Administration "swooped in" to a Columbus health store and "seized about 100 candles." An FDA representative said the candles were seized because they did not have FDA approval, which is required for "anything used for treatment or prevention of disease in humans or animals." An official said that the raid was part of a wider crackdown.

I, personally, am sleeping better, knowing something is being done about this menace.

Another menace that your Food and Drug Administration is protecting you from is:

Nutritional misinformation regarding tequila-flavored lollipops containing dead insects.

Perhaps you have seen these novelty lollipops, which consist of a clear, tequila-flavored hard candy, inside of which is what appears to be a dead worm.

According to the May 13, 1993, issue of Food Labeling News, sent in by Steve Stockum, the FDA sent a warning letter to S.S. Lollopop Co., manufacturers of the "Sugar-Free Hotlix Tequila Flavored Candy With Genuine Worm," because the company failed to properly identify the worm as "insect larva." Not only that, but the FDA says that the product is not sugar-free.

We can only try to imagine how much harm has already been done to innocent consumers who purchased this product in the mistaken belief that it complied with nutritional programs requiring the consumption of low-calorie-candy-encased worms that are not insect larva.

But before we do anything, let's salute the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) office in Idaho for its prompt action regarding:

Improperly attired rescue personnel.

Here's what happened, according to an article in the Idaho Statesman sent in by Joe Auvil:

On May 11, two employees of DeBest Inc., a plumbing company, were working at a construction site in Garden City, Idaho, when they heard a backhoe operator yell for help. They ran over, and found that the wall of a trench -- which was not dug by DeBest -- had collapsed on a worker, pinning him under dirt.

"We could hear muffled screams," said one of the DeBest employees.

So the men jumped into the trench and dug the victim out, quite possibly saving his life.

What do you think OSHA did about this? Do you think it gave the rescuers a medal? If so, I can see why you are a mere lowlife taxpayer, as opposed to an OSHA executive. What OSHA did was fine Debest Inc. $7,875.

Yes. OSHA said that the two men should not have gone into the trench without (1) putting on approved hard hats, and (2) taking steps to ensure that other trench walls did not collapse. Of

course this might have resulted in some discomfort for the suffocating victim ("Hang in there! We should have the OSHA trench-seepage-prevention guidelines here within hours!"). But that is the price you pay for occupational health and safety.

After DeBest Inc. complained to Idaho Sen. Dirk Kempthorne, OSHA backed off on the fines. Nevertheless this incident should serve as a warning to would-be rescuers out there to comply with all federal regulations before attempting to rescue people. Especially if these people are in a burning OSHA office.

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