Monday, June 3, 2013

Surveilance, Disease, Freedom, and Hard Choices

I spent part of this week in Washington D.C. as a producer representative from the National Pork Board's Swine Welfare Committee to a meeting hosted by FAZD. The purpose of the meeting was to bring together the main people charged with protecting the United States from foreign animal and plant diseases. I was interested in attending to learn more of how this topic will impact me as a participate in the Fair Oaks Pig Adventure, where it is anticipated that 200,000 people a year will visit. My son, Samuel Wildman, is doing a summer internship here training the tour guides and greeters. You can follow his adventure at Reflections of a Country Boy.

Fair Oaks Pig Adventure

The meeting turned out to be a room full of three letter acronyms DHS, CBP, APHIS, NPB to name a few.

impressive list of speakers and topics

Here are some of my "take home" observations from the event:

1) There are some really smart, talented, and hard working people in government that want to do a good job of protecting us, the citizens of this country. Looking over the agenda shown above, to refer to most of these speakers as "Doctor" is an understatement.

2) These folks and their peers often risk their lives, whether it be at a port of entry or a border post facing down criminal activity, in a laboratory testing an unknown substance, in the field collecting samples, or in a foreign land asking questions their host is not interested in answering.

A few people show up early to meetings
3) It is a monumental task when you think about all the people and commerce that move in and out of this country everyday and the potential for disease transfer. 160+ staffed and 200+ non-staffed ports of entry along with miles and miles of coast and border that are defacto unofficial ports of entry. And not just people and commerce move across these borders, but wildlife and livestock ranging freely back and forth need attention also.

4) Surveillance, intelligence gathering and privacy rights become hot topics and require considered and negotiated trade offs. Indeed this was the flash point between the producers and the three letter acronyms in the room. We all recognize the other's legitimate desire for more or less as the case may be but disagreement exists about where the trade offs should start and stop.

police drone (

The point was made that all (the vast majority) of disease discoveries come from "passive" surveillance. Someone, a citizen, sees something and asks a question, (ie. why is my animal sick) and bingo the authorities have helpful new information.

The capture of the Boston Bomber suspect is illustrative of this surveillance situation. Caught in a gun fight with police (active surveillance) he escapes despite the most intensive surveillance the government can bring to bare ... until the citizens of Boston are released from their homes. Then bingo, a citizen sees something wrong with his boat (passive surveillance) and the authorities have helpful new information.

This passive surveillance is extremely powerful, if properly harnessed, but it is absolutely dependent on the citizen trusting the government to handle the information properly. The discussion made it clear that this trust has been severely damaged by the recent scandals in many agencies at the federal level. Targeting citizens with the IRS, targeting news reporters, spinning tales about Benghazi, the EPA releasing data to activist and leadership that pleads ignorance all cut into the citizen's trust that government will handle information properly. Why would a citizen give passive surveillance information to the authorities if there is doubt they will use it properly or maybe even use it against the citizen that produced it? Trust is fundamental and severely lacking right now.

Questions arise after information is available.

Who owns that information? The citizen? The laboratory? The authority?
What can/must the owner do with that information? The answer is different for each one so the answer is critical.

5) Government, does not think it can, "Do more with less". The thought of "Do the same with less" or "Do less with less" never even surfaced. Government always wants to, "Do more with more". Government doesn't see the irony that if they are going to "Do more with more" then the citizens are going to have to "Do more with less" or "Do the same with less" or "Do less with less". In other words the citizen will have to do exactly that which the government finds impossible! This amounts to a lose of FREEDOM!

The entire meeting was filled with the adjectives more, bigger, larger, faster, greater. I remember no statement that suggested less of anything. Listen/watch this ad that is billed as "conservative" and see what adjectives are used to illustrate my point. Rubio Immigration Reform Ad

6) Government struggles to think of itself as working for the public. The language is always "How can we push this down to the producer?" "How can we control this activity?" "We need to get them to ..." "What does the penalty need to be to stop xyz?" and so on. The language is always "we" (government) and "them" (citizens).

The closest the conversation came to the realization that the citizen runs the government and not the other way around was, "We are glad producers are here, we want to hear what they have to say".

7) Those in power build monuments to themselves. Pharaohs built pyramids, Kings built castles and palaces, Governments build buildings. According to the U.S. Constitution there are three coequal branches of government, the legislative, judicial, and executive. Now let's look at the "monuments" (buildings) in our great capital city of Washington DC. The Judicial Branch has the Supreme Court and some office space, the Legislative Branch has the Capitol Building and three office buildings, the Executive Branch has the White House and some office space next door, .... and the Pentagon, and the Federal Triangle, and the EPA, and the Department of Labor, and the Department of Education, and the etc, etc, etc..

Who in our government has the power? Are these branches coequal?

This observation can be easily explained away but it does make you think.

U.S EPA Building (

8) There are always those things you hear and don't quite understand but they leave a little bell ringing in the back of your head. This event left me pondering "One Health" and the comment that was repeated in various ways and times about how CPD is "collecting ???gigabytes of data every hour" into a database that is available to multiple agencies for data mining. Both these little bells warn me of government doing more with more and my FREEDOM becoming less. But I will have to hold that opinion until later when I understand more.

9) I was surprised at the lack of the use of social media by the participants. It seems to me that people's personal use of social media is inversely related to their position in an organization. That is just a theory of mine.

So these are some of my personal impressions of the event and should be read as such. I do not always listen well and have been known to misinterpret things even when I did listen well. But hopefully, these observations will give you things to think about as you consider  the question, "Where does food come from?".