Rest Easy, Fellow Citizens: The Feds Are On The Case

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 without the aid of powerful narcotics. (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:


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, written by Graydon Hambrick and 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 spokesperson 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 ear-candle crackdown.

I, personally, am sleeping better, knowing something is being done about this menace. I'd like to see the FDA program dramatized in a TV series, "Ear Candle Patrol," wherein each week federal agents would confront dangerous, law-violating health-store clerks ("Look out, Matt! She's got a ginseng root!").

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


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. If so, you no doubt asked yourself: "What assurance do I have, as a consumer, that this worm is identified with proper federal terminology?"

Rest easy! The FDA is on the case! 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. Perhaps, as a token of our concern, we should ask the government to set up a program to locate these victims and award each of them $1.4 million. Why not? We're taxpayers!

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


Here's what happened, according to an article in The Idaho Statesman written by Martin S. Johncox and 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 and covering his head.

"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 - remember, I am not making this up - 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 insure that other trench walls did not collapse, and water did not seep in. 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.

Unfortunately, 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, including those that are not yet in existence, before attempting to rescue people. ESPECIALLY if these people are in, say, a burning OSHA office. Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald. His column appears Monday on editorial pages of The Times.