BE VERY AFRAID: We’ve all heard about cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face, but after checking out Assemblymember Das Williams’s recent legislative package, it’s the fate of another protuberant appendage about which I’m more nervous. The Das, as PC an Über Lib as one could hope to find in Sacramento, seems unusually preoccupied with skin these days. First, there was his bill to save the state from fiscal ruin — and to keep kids in class — by taxing lap dances, but not, Williams insisted, the lap dancers themselves. More recently, The Das proposed a bill that would require all new table saws sold in the state to come equipped with an ingenious protective device that stops the saw’s rotational spin dead in its tracks upon the slightest contact with human epidermis. Politicians — like the rich — are different from you or me; they think of things I couldn’t imagine even on drugs.
However inventive Williams may be, his chops don’t come close to Tony Strickland’s. Strickland, who represents Santa Barbara in the State Senate more by default than by design, tacks even further to the right than Williams does to the left. A big guy and a principled reactionary, Strickland made his way up the GOP ranks by serving as the party’s hit man and no-tax-increase enforcer. Recent events, however, reveal there’s more to Tony than meat and muscle. Strickland has just proposed a bill that would protect California grocery shoppers from the silently simmering menace posed by their eco-friendly, reusable tote bags. Reusable bags, it turns out, are bacterial breeding grounds, and Strickland’s bill — SB 1106 — would require that all such bags come stamped with the word “Warning” followed by the explanation — printed in 10-point type — that reusable bags “can cause serious illness … from food-borne pathogens.” The point, he explained, when the bill was killed in committee this week, is that reusable bags must be cleaned and disinfected between uses to prevent “cross-contamination” of one’s food. “Very, very few consumers or grocery workers are aware of this risk,” he told a staff member for the Senate Environmental Quality Committee. (In an earlier iteration of the bill, Strickland had proposed more colorful language, warning that failure to clean one’s bag “can cause serious illness, cancer, or birth defects.”)
To substantiate his alarm, Strickland cited two recent studies showing that the bacteria counts found in some reusable grocery bags is higher than the concentration allowed under safe drinking-water standards. It’s worth noting that one of the studies was paid for by the Environment and Plastics Industry Council and the other by the American Chemistry Council. It should go without saying that both these councils represent the plastic bag industry, now very much under siege by environmentalists hoping to save the sea turtles — if not the world — by banning single-use plastic bags. As convenient as they are ubiquitous and intrusive, plastic bags are very big business, and their manufacturers have no intention of going quietly into the naysayers’ good night. Strickland pointed out that food contamination causes 48 million illnesses — and 3,000 deaths — in the United States each year. But neither of the studies he cited linked the ominously un-scrubbed tote bags to a single case of food poisoning, illness, or death. When subjected to the light of other peer-reviewed articles on the subject, the committee’s legislative analyst — Rebecca Newhouse — found out that the bacteria counts reported in both studies were comparable to those found on a typical kitchen sponge. The same risk of “cross-contamination,” she noted, could equally apply to grocery baskets, shopping carts, kitchen counters, and cutting boards. Should similar warning labels be required for them, as well?
Before now, I never suspected Strickland of being a running-dog, lickspittled lackey of the Nanny State. I always thought he was a survival-of-the-richest, hard-line social Darwinist who abhorred any government intrusion into one’s life unless to deny reproductive choice or civil liberties.
Newhouse cited yet another study in her report, this one suggesting that an alarmingly high number of reusable bags — the ones made with plastic rather than cloth — come precontaminated from China with lead-based paint. I don’t have enough functioning brain cells left to sacrifice even a few, so this prospect alarms me. Newhouse cautioned that this study had not been peer-reviewed. And the sponsoring organization — the Center for Consumer Freedom — also happens to lobby on behalf of the fast-food, meat, liquor, and tobacco industries. Why a group so intent on reducing the average American life expectancy would care about lead-painted tote bags, I don’t pretend to understand.
How a live-free-or-die dude like Strickland came to be a born-again Nanny State zealot, however, is not so mysterious. It turns out he’s now running for a congressional seat in Ventura, and his chief Democratic rival, Julia Brownley, led the charge to ban plastic bags statewide while in the Assembly. Not only that, but Brownley is now pushing a much softer and kinder bill to define what constitutes a reusable bag. Brownley’s bill would require such bags be strong enough to carry 22 pounds more than 100 times for a distance of 175 feet. Rather than require a warning label designed to scare off possible users, Brownley’s bill would mandate bags to come with a tag identifying its country of origin and stating no lead, cadmium, other toxic heavy metals designed to sap one’s wits were used in its manufacture.
Just remember there are 41 shopping days left between now and the June primary. I’ll do my part by shopping with a cross-contaminated, lead-based bag. You can spot me huffing by the broccoli section at Trader Joe’s. Please do not disturb. I already am.