Bureaucracy or Irradiation: Which Should You Trust More?

My heart goes out to Stephanie Smith, a young woman who became paralyzed after eating a hamburger contaminated with the virulent strain of E. coli known as O157:H7. Her sad story was featured on the front page of the Sunday New York Times and is supposed to illustrate the need for more government food safety regulation. I read the story waiting for the reporter to write about another low-cost solution to the problem of bacterial contamination in food. It never came. What solution? Irradiation. That is, treating foods with gamma, electron beam or X-ray radiation to kill bacteria that might be found on food before it is offered to the consumer. It is no more dangerous than pasteurization of milk and would prevent tens of thousands of food poisoning episodes if widely adopted. As the U.S. Centers for Disease Control summarizes the results of decades of research:

Treating raw meat and poultry with irradiation at the slaughter plant could eliminate bacteria commonly found raw meat and raw poultry, such as E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, and Campylobacter. These organisms currently cause millions of infections and thousands of hospitalizations in the United States every year. Raw meat irradiation could also eliminate Toxoplasma organisms, which can be responsible for severe eye and congenital infections. Irradiating prepared ready-to-eat meats like hot dogs and deli meats, could eliminate the risk of Listeria from such foods. Irradiation could also eliminate bacteria like Shigella and Salmonella from fresh produce. The potential benefit is also great for those dry foods that might be stored for long times and transported over great distances, such as spices and grains. Animal feeds are often contaminated with bacteria like Salmonella. Irradiation of animal feeds could prevent the spread of Salmonella and other pathogens to livestock through feeds.

The Times offered nary a word on the topic, but instead argued for expanding federal food safety regulatory authority. Even more irritatingly, at the end of the article, the Times quoted a representative from the "consumer" group, Food and Water Watch, who favored more vigorous regulatory enforcement. I would argue that Food and Water Watch is partly responsible for putting the health of consumers like Ms. Smith at risk because of its ongoing unscientific campaign against food irradiation. Why should Americans be forced to trust their health chiefly to the good will of politically well-connected corporations and a bunch of bureaucrats when applying a simple elegant inexpensive technnology can go a long way toward solving the problem?

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  • Abdul||

    I would argue that Food and Water Watch are partly responsible for putting the health of consumers like Ms. Smith at risk because of its ongoing unscientific campaign against food irradition.

    Unscientific? Dr. Bruce Banner is a scientist, and his sotry tells us all about the dangers of radiation, especially, gamma radiation.

  • anon||

    You're a colossal idiot if you think that anything that might happen in a superhero comic book has any relevance on what might happen in real life.

  • Jordan||

    Anon, I am pretty sure that was a joke. Chill. Thanks!

  • ||

    The sad part is, superhero comics and Godzilla movies aren't all that far from the general public's level of understanding re: radiation and nuclear physics. If you can explain the difference between fusion and fission or between alpha and beta and gamma, you're already in an upper percentile of understanding. If you can explain half lifes or why radioactivity can't be "contagious" in the way that biological infections can, you're at an even higher percentile.

  • P Brooks||

    Ron-

    There was an interesting story in the paper yesterday about the genetic modification luddites in Boulder, Colorado who want to prevent farmers from planting "Roundup Ready" sugarbeets (apparently they fear some horrible mutant-sugar-beet- uprising).

    Did you see it?

  • mark||

    And make sure, if you end up posting on Roundup Ready sugar beets, to include your standard caveat vis-a-vis sugar tariffs and by implication, corn subsidies.

  • ed||

    Publications like The New York Times have blood on their hands. They've been a party to the dissemination and entrenchment of anti-science propaganda for decades. The publication with "the greatest journalists on earth" cannot plead ignorance. They are culpable in the premature deaths of thousands of Americans.

  • ||

    I hate living in a society where ignorant buffooons drive policy and are given a free press by much of the media and society.

  • ||

    "free press"?
    typo? irony? or turn of phrase?

  • Frankenstein||

    Radiation ... BAD!

  • anon||

    I hope that's sarcasm. I really do.

  • Ellen||

    And I hope his name isn't really Frankenstein. I really do. Can you imagine having to go through life with such a name?

  • Wacky Hermit||

    It's pronounced fronk-en-STEEEEEN!!!! ;)

  • P Brooks||

    As for any legitimate claim by the NYT to be advocates for making our lives better, I think that has pretty well been put to rest.

  • ||

    There's a local farm market in NJ called Mood's. They grow mostly apples and peaches. Every Fall they produce their own apple cider. NJ regs do not require that apple cider be Pasteurized. Pasteurizing apple cider greatly changes the flavor. A while back, a man and his family got very sick from contaminated cider they got from Mood's. They tried to sue, and have the state regs changed. It turns out, that they were from Pennsylvania, and traveled to NJ specifically to buy unPasteurized cider. (Pennsylvania regs require all cider to be heat Pasteurized). The judge threw the case out. Now, Mood's uses what they call "cold Pasteurization". The cider is irradiated with UV light. I have been consuming large quantities of this cider for several years. I have never gotten sick, and have not noticed a change in flavor since they started using this technology.

    http://www.moodsfarmmarket.com.....cider.html

  • ||

    It takes up to 10 years before you start to glow in the dark...

  • Brother J||

    Well, considering the upcoming ban on incadescent light bulbs, that might be useful. Gotta have something to see with after sundown...
    /sarc

  • Mango Punch||

    Is Irradiation illegal??

    why don't food companies use the technology already? Wouldn't it save them against the threat of civil suit, and other expenses (like having to shut down all their production and clean all their equipment + recalls (like in the peanutbutter and spinach scares))?

  • Paul||

    No, because they'd be tied up in court from 'enviro/consumer groups' who are still convinced that irradiating food is done with ionizing radiation. You know, like they're pouring plutonium dust all over the vegetable medly.

  • Brian Lockwood||

    Gamma rays and beta particles are typically counted as ionizing radiation. Not that it implies anything about the safety of food irradiation.

  • Wacky Hermit||

    Consumer groups will also jump on the bandwagon to sue them for giving people food poisoning. If they're gonna be sued either way, why wouldn't they want to be sued in a case that at least would have a chance of setting a precedent that would stop the suits?

  • ||

    Unscientific? Dr. Bruce Banner is a scientist, and his sotry tells us all about the dangers of radiation, especially, gamma radiation.

    Jeebus, he got to bang Jarella. Who'd complain about that?

  • ||

    I don't find her all that attractive. She's seems very two diminsional to me.

  • ||

    So is it illegal for food processors to irradiate their product?

    Shouldn't the insurance against the expense and publicity of a recall make it standard industry practice?

  • Xeones||

    Bureaucracy has killed far more people than radiation.

  • ||

    Bureaucracy Ignorance and ideology has killed far more people than radiation.

    FTFY. (Of course, I mean that in a nice way.)

  • Paul||

    Same thing...

  • P Brooks||

    Bureaucracy has killed far more people than radiation.

    I'm going to write that down in my little red book.

  • ||

    The potential benefit is also great for those dry foods that might be stored for long times and transported over great distances, such as spices and grains.

    Ah! So that's how Spock kept so fresh between II and III.

  • ||

    I find it rather laughable (in a sad sort of way) that the very same folks who are scared of irradiated food will think nothing about popping the same food in the microwave.

  • ed||

    Microwaves endured a similar propaganda campaign, but convenience won out over principled ignorance. Still, a vestige of that ignorance remains. Some people still say "nuke" or "zap" when referring to that cooking process.

  • Paul||

    Nuke would of course not be accurate, but zapping, in my opinion is perfectly fine.

  • TomB||

    IIRC, the Imuses (radio guy of "nappy-headed ho" fame) make a big deal out of not having a microwave at their many homes.

    For the life of me, I don't know why.

    It does explain alot that the wife is big into all manner of wooo, including being an rabid anti-vaxxer.

    Of course they think absolutely nothing of hopping in their private jet and flying from NY to their tax-dodge scam ranch in New Mexico. I wonder if they realize how much radiation they pick up at 40,000 feet?

  • ||

    Warren: Food irradiation is not illegal. However, the FDA must approve each food in which it can be used. The main problem is that special interests like Food and Water Watch and the Organic Consumers Association have stigmatized the technology making consumers reluctant to pick up packages decorated with the radura symbol.

  • ||

    I find it rather laughable (in a sad sort of way) that the very same folks who are scared of irradiated food will think nothing about popping the same food in the microwave.

    Maybe they could buy "radiation offsets," so that people who's heads aren't wedged up the ass of the 1930's paradigms can enjoy their regulatory-required parasites and salmonella, and we non-Luddites can enjoy the advantages of modern technology and free thinking with our contagion-free food.

    I smell a market brewing....

  • P Brooks||

    Home irradiation! A box on the counter in which you put your hamburger, or spinach, or whatever, and push the button. A few seconds of eerie glow, and, presto! safe to eat.

    Them what wants, gets.

  • JB||

    Why use technology when you can have thousands more government employees to rape taxpayers, vote for Obama, and read the piece of shit NYT?

  • Paul||

    Thousands more dues paying union government registered voting employees.

  • ||

    "Still, a vestige of that ignorance remains. Some people still say 'nuke' or 'zap' when referring to that cooking process."

    Oh, come on. I could build you a microwave oven -- and I certainly understand the principles of its operation well -- but I still say "nuke." It's just more fun that way. I call the microwaveable frozen entrees "nukameals" too. So sue me.

  • ||

    I say nuke also. Always have. I never did buy into the microwave being a potential health hazard crap. But the 'nukameals', that's another story...

  • ||

    "Bureaucracy or Irradiation: Which Should You Trust More?"

    I would take a massive burst of gamma rays at close range over beaurocracy. That way you die with less suffering and pay less taxes.

  • Paul||

    Pay fewer taxes. Or wait, is it 'less'? Tim Cavanaugh? Heelllppp!

  • ||

    Both fewer and less would be a good thing.

  • ||

    Bureaucracy, damnit! It's too hard to spell check without preview!!!

  • Xeones||

    Let me add that i find your average Campylobacter or Shigella to be far more trustworthy than anyone employed by the federal gubmint.

  • ||

    The FDA announced on November 29, 2000, that it was amending the food additive regulations to provide for the safe use of ultraviolet (UV) irradiation to reduce human pathogens in juice (See Federal Register/Vol. 65, No. 230/Wednesday, November 29, 2000/Rules and Regulations attached).

    https://www.oescoinc.com/html/cidersure.html

  • Corduroy Rocks||

    Ron,

    It would be a good followup to directly respond to the Food and Water Watch claims on irradiation. It features the ever-so-popular "studies have shown..."

  • ||

    what ever happened to cook your food properly... My biggest concern about this kind of nannystate bs is that my children are going to inherit a planet overcrowded with morans (sic) radiating is fine companies should be free to do it and I should be free to buy my meat from a plant that maintains proper cleanliness and sve the expense let the morans keep eating fast food

  • ||

    as far as i'm concerned e. coli and salmonella are nature's way of eliminating people with weak constitutions

  • Xeones||

    Thank you, yet another dave's mostly incoherent comment -- Morans Radiating is now going to be the name of my band.

  • ||

    Could it be the total void of punctuation?

  • ||

    sorry , . , . !

  • ||

    ....people who's heads aren't wedged

    Make that 'are', not 'aren't.'

    That's what I get for posting tired and right before a meeting.

  • ||

    what ever happened to cook your food properly...

    Can't cook a salad....

  • ||

    salad is for hippie liberals

    Boil everything for 5 mins.
    works for the English

  • Mango Punch||

    -Ceviche
    -Sushi
    -Medium Steak

    I for one accept risk in exchange for flavour.

  • ||

    I think "Radiating Morans" works better.

  • Autodidact||

    "Pennsylvania regs require all cider to be heat Pasteurized)."

    Amish cherry-apple cider rocks!

  • ||

    And 'whose,' not 'who's'....gah....

  • ||

    Just blame it on the no preview thing, works for me.

  • Autodidact||

    "Can't cook a salad...."

    Panzano, in downtown Denver makes a great Caesar Griglia (grilled hearts of romaine, anchovies, garlic & parmesan)

  • BakedPenguin||

    Sugarfree - I'd agree with you, unless Xeones' band is ambient. Then, "Morans Radiating" sounds better.

  • Ted S.||

    Bureaucracy, damnit! It's too hard to spell check without preview!!!

    I figured that when you typed "beaurocracy", you really meant rule by handsome suitors.

  • ||

    unless Xeones' band is ambient

    You're right, but if his band is ambient, there's a lot more wrong there than swapping band names around will fix.

  • Isaac Bartram||

    Boil everything for 5 mins.
    works for the English

    Only if they like their food undercooked.

  • T||

    The main problem is that special interests like Food and Water Watch and the Organic Consumers Association have stigmatized the technology making consumers reluctant to pick up packages decorated with the radura symbol.

    I call bullshit. If you showed a radura to your average consumer, they wouldn't know what it was or what it meant.

  • ||

    They would if the Organic Cumsumers Association started picketing outside the supermarket demanding they stop selling irradiated beef.

  • P Brooks||

    If you showed a radura to your average consumer, they wouldn't know what it was or what it meant.

    It's one of these, right?

  • raw-milk guy||

    It is no more dangerous than pasteurization of milk

    And those who want it should have it. No one else.

  • Xeones||

    I think "Radiating Morans" works better.

    You're entitled to your opinion, though it is wrong.

    BP: not ambient. More like experimental post-thrash. I'm looking for a Japanese vocalist.

  • Das Leben der Anderen||

    Can one irradiate pussy?

  • Syd Henderson||

    Yes, but you wouldn't like it when it gets angry.

  • Das Leben der Anderen||

    "BP: not ambient. More like experimental post-thrash. I'm looking for a Japanese vocalist."

    Big fan of Antic Cafe?

  • P Brooks||

    "Radiating Morans" implies "Moran Ray".

    Damn good thing I've got my tinfoil hat.

  • Tony||

    How would the simple and elegant method of food decontamination be implemented without a bureaucracy to enforce it? I thought you guys were all about letting the market sort these things out. After all if you're paralyzed from beef you're definitely not shopping at that Costco again, and what could possibly be more efficient than that?

  • SpongePaul||

    I am against irradiation, not because of some organic eating lifestyle or anything but from the pure speculative standpoint. That being. there are millions of strains of bacteria, many which we need and are benificial, no human or higher life form can exist without its co habitating bacteria, we can not even digest food in a bacteria free world. So, how many good bacteria are being killed off, resulting in more health problems. We are alieanting ourselves away from our symbiotic friends, we can not live without them, they can do just fine without us, in most cases. although some are sybiots to only humans or dogs etc. in a sterile world you will have all kinds of health problems. look at the undeveloped world where parasites are still present, autoimmune dieases like athritis, IBs kronhs and others do not happen, the immune sytem is battiling parasites, its only when it gets overactive do you have the problems, autoimmune is overactive system, nothing more. WHY! because for 1000000's yrs it has had to fend off parasites and had to be active, in some people it cant slow down enough without the threqt it plays war games with itself.

  • P Brooks||

    How would the simple and elegant method of food decontamination be implemented without a bureaucracy to enforce it?

    Tony's mindset, in brief.

  • Tony||

    My mindset is not to have a lizard-brain disgust reaction at the word "bureaucracy."

  • Ample Bosoms||

    @SpongePaul

    That reminds me of two things:

    1. George Carlin said he never gets sick (and yes I know he's dead now) because as a kid, he swam in the Hudson River, which at the time was rich in raw sewage.

    2. Studies show that children who grow up without pets are more likely to develop asthma. The group of kids least likely to develop asthma? Farm kids.

  • ||

    My mindset is not to have a lizard-brain disgust reaction at the word "bureaucracy."

    How unfortunate for you. Do you not feel reflexive disgust at the sight/smell of vomit? Fresh feces?

  • The Man||

    So ... SpongePaul, where did you study immunology?

  • ||

    It contails the word "radiation"!

    Eating irradiated meat will give you cancer and three-headed babies! It's self-evident!

    Giant atomic spiders will sprout from your genitals!

    Radiation = VeRbOtEn!!! Only facists support radiation!

  • ||

    "Why should Americans be forced to trust their health chiefly to the good will of politically well-connected corporations and a bunch of bureaucrats when applying a simple elegant inexpensive technnology can go a long way toward solving the problem?"

    1) No one forces Americans to do what you've described. Anyone who wants to take care of himself will learn about and reject the CAFO culture that inspires the taint that antibiotics and now irradiation are designed to kill. But in the absence of large-scale rejection of the verifiably nasty meat-production industry, people will continue to rely on government food-and-drug sages. Instead of talking about sustainability, we opt for the red button because it's sexy and total. I'll buy my meat from Joel Salatin and his ilk before I nod in doe-eyed agreement with U.S. ministries.

    2) "...applying a simple elegant inexpensive technnology can go a long way toward solving the problem..." I'm not convinced that everyone should bow to aspirin just because a few people get headaches. Over decades of so-called health authority, the government can't even get fats, imitation foods, and folic acid levels right, so I'll pass on government expertise in this as well.

  • ||

    As seen in the linked NYT article, meat processors go to great, but sometimes ineffective,lengths to keep ahem -feces- away from their products. If their efforts are backstopped by a final, 100% effective "picowave" bath, won't they just relax on their cleanliness efforts, since nobody can be sickened anymore? Sure, we'll be eating more shit, but it'll be Sterile! what's to worry?

  • ||

    Well, the article is not a very thorough piece of journalism, since a "balanced" perspective would mention that these practices, which move all the way up the food chain to corn subsidies, are modern. They are problems that came into being AFTER "food science" became a legitimate term, AFTER the USDA came into being, and AFTER ADM and Cargill (and its panoply of subsidiaries) monopolized mass-food production. You can't really read a sentence that includes "federal guidance to cook meat thoroughly" and not be jolted by the response of common sense.

  • ||

    AMEN! Do you remember when microwave ovens came out? Everyone freaked out. Now, that have changed the face of food and cooking. Irradiation is DESPERATELY needed. Such a simple technology that could literally save lives. Unfortunately, time after time it has been proven that you can not rely on people to cook their food properly, mistakes, ignorance whatever you want to call it...but when people make mistakes by mishandling or undercooking---they don’t blame themselves, they blame the producers of the food. We expect a perfect food supply. Irradiation is a needed technology, plus it is already used in foods we eat today...just about all spices imported are irradiated...we aren’t glowing yet. Can you say RAW animal product? How can we expect it to be perfectly clean and 100% free of contaminants...even after abdominal surgery in a hospital patients are given antibiotics because some surgery is just "dirty". Do you not use the antibiotics because the doctor SHOULD have been cleaner or the gut should not have leaked? No you take precautions to save your life...That is what irradiation could be to the meat industry and other industries.

  • ||

    Mav, your argument is largely incoherent. I don't know what your surgery analogy is supposed to accomplish, so let's stick to industrial food. FACT: industrial meat production is riddled with health threats related to feeding cows fattening diets they are not biologically equipped to digest: corn. This feeding practice compromises bovine immune systems and requires the introduction of antibiotics to combat pathogens that nature does not normally tolerate. Humans cleverly created environments -- see CAFO -- that provide fertile breeding environments for undesirable bacteria. By even talking about the expanded use of irradiation, you are admitting that the filthy practices endorsed by USDA-approved guidelines are dangerous; therefore, requiring irradiation, which is not normal or necessary to any enjoyment of food.

    Just because you have a nostalgic appreciation for the cultural journey of the microwave oven doesn't mean that the microwave improves how we eat, it simply means that you have a convenient means of reheating your leftovers. The USDA created problems by catering to ADM and Cargill's lobbying power, USDA responds by adding even greater barriers to the free markets, potentially REQUIRING measures that kill or greatly reduce the profits of smaller business that practice sustainability in ways that free their products of pathogens and the need for irradiation entirely.

    Yes, I can say "RAW animal product," every time I eat carpaccio or sashimi, or when I look at how the rest of the world deals quite safely with the raw food that seems to inspire all-caps fear in you: Korean yuk hoe, Dutch filet american, Lebanese kibbeh, Japanese gyuusashi, Ethiopean kofte. Germophobia, if there is such a thing, is supportable if you submit to a system that designs for the increased possibility of such. You are terrified of germs that your selections as a consumer and tax payer implicitly support. And your response is the introduction of a technology that nature has never required to yield safe and edible food.

    Finally, by arguing that "time after time it has been proven that you can not rely on people to cook their food properly," you assume the position of the Left, which is certain that we are stupid and incapable of doing anything sensibly without the assistance of government. No government has ever taught people how to cook. No government should ever teach people how to cook. We knew how to do so before the idea of centralized power was even recognized.

  • TomB||

    Humans cleverly created environments -- see CAFO -- that provide fertile breeding environments for undesirable bacteria.

    So we "humans" purposely created the breeding environment for pathogens dangerous to humans?

    Why? To what end?

    And really, if you are going to admonish someone for an "incoherent" argument, look in the mirror. Your post reads like a screed from one of the lesser stable members of Greenpeace (or what's left of it).

    And it's nice to know that nobody outside of this country becomes ill or dies from improperly prepared RAW!!!1! food.

    Sheesh.

  • ||

    "So we "humans" purposely created the breeding environment for pathogens dangerous to humans?"

    By purposely, I assume you mean purposefully. Your word -- if misspelled -- not mine.

    "Why? To what end?"

    Profitability.

    "And really, if you are going to admonish someone for an "incoherent" argument, look in the mirror. Your post reads like a screed from one of the lesser stable members of Greenpeace (or what's left of it)."

    Sure, if you say so.

    "And it's nice to know that nobody outside of this country becomes ill or dies from improperly prepared RAW!!!1! food."

    Are you suggesting that nobody outside the U.S. becomes ill or dies from improperly prepared raw food? That's probably inaccurate.

  • TomB||

    By purposely, I assume you mean purposefully. Your word -- if misspelled -- not mine.

    A rather sad dodge. Perhaps you want to answer the question now?

    What "profitability" is there in poisoning people?

    Are you suggesting that nobody outside the U.S. becomes ill or dies from improperly prepared raw food? That's probably inaccurate.

    Of course it is, as is the assertion that food in the US is somehow less safe than elsewhere in the world.

  • ||

    @Andrew Lynch:

    Something in your comment jumped out at me:

    requiring irradiation, which is not normal or necessary to any enjoyment of food.

    Food is not, and never has been, safe. People died all the time until the twentieth century. One case: Zachary Taylor, who died of gastroenteritis brought on by what he'd been eating five days previously.

    Irradiation does no harm, costs very little-I really can't see the problem.

  • ||

    "Food is not, and never has been, safe."

    That's a ridiculous statement. I won't relish refuting it until you've got a case.

    "People died all the time until the twentieth century."

    Another ridiculous statement, although I love your zeal for the magical qualities of the 20th century.

    "One case: Zachary Taylor, who died of gastroenteritis brought on by what he'd been eating five days previously."

    You're not really going to close on that note, are you? Because I'll be forced to trot out my Sherwood Anderson choked-on-a-chicken-bone story.

    "Irradiation does no harm, costs very little-I really can't see the problem."

    Good for you. In a free market, you can buy irradiated meat and I don't have to. By the way, I never suggested irradiation was a problem. You drew that conclusion yourself. I simply argue that it is unnecessary under conditions that don't require it.

  • JeffS||

    So why bother everyone on the thread then Andrew?

    After all, the point of the thread was the saftey of food irradiation and the scare tactics used by some groups to prevent it.

  • ||

    The USDA. Isn't that the agency that clamped down on a meat packer for inspecting 100% of their dead cows for Mad Cow and and letting that fact become known? It gave them an unfair advantage over competitors who did the legally mandated percentage of inspections, undermining the public confidence in the random sampling model of food safety?

  • ||

    Irridation has one fatal shortcoming: it leaves no one from whom our stellar statesmen can extort payment. When considering solutions to public problems, first think "what would John Murtha, or Chris Dodd, or Charlie Rangel do?" The solution will come to you quite quickly.

  • ||

    We've used Sterigenics to treat food stuffs for years. Grains are very susceptible to bugs. Some items, such as almond meal, are gassed before distribution. The dosage to kill bacteria is surprisingly low. For big producers, it can be done in-line at an affordable cost.

    It will take a lot of deaths before people realize poop encrusted organic food with no preservatives isn't better.

  • ||

    "It will take a lot of deaths before people realize poop encrusted organic food with no preservatives isn't better."

    Your statement is void of evidence or substance, but, hey, provoke away, that's what Hit & Run regulars AND tourists do.

  • JeffS||

    Your statement is void of evidence or substance

    Organic food not healthier, study finds

  • Zach||

    Even assuming that study to be true, there are other considerations than the health of the eater alone.

    For example:
    Ocean ‘Dead Zones’ on the Rise

  • JeffS||

    Andrew said the posters statement that organic food was no better than the standard version was "void of evidence or substance". I proved it wasn't. You want to bring up other issues, fine. But they have nothing to do with the topic at hand.

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