Etc. 

Warning: Do not read while eating a hamburger.

Remember when the Independent filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the USDA in order to determine just how much Canadian beef was being inspected at the Sweetgrass border inspection stations? Of course you don’t; that was more than a year ago. Anyhow, the Independent’s original request was denied because Sweetgrass’ two inspection stations are run by private companies. After the initial rejection, the Independent revised its request to include the total number of reinspected and refused lots and pounds of meat and poultry crossing from Canada into the U.S. in 2002. Our request was finally granted in late November. Before we give you the numbers, we should mention that border reinspection is important because, while the U.S. requires meat plants to be inspected monthly, Brooks, Alberta, Mayor Don Weisbeck told the Independent that inspectors visit his local Canadian meat plant only “three or four times a year.” “Reinspection,” in many cases, is the only inspection meat gets. Anyway, here’s the dirt: In 2002, approximately 2.1 billion pounds of meat were presented at the U.S-Canada border. Of that, approximately 84 million pounds (about 4.2 percent) were reinspected and approximately 2.2 million pounds (or about 2.6 percent) were rejected. If that ratio holds, even if the non-reinspected pounds were somehow 10 times as likely to be acceptable as the reinspected pounds, that would still leave more than 5 million pounds that made it into the country—and, most likely, on to you, John Q. Consumer—that would have been rejected had it actually been reinspected at the border. Is that a tummy ache we feel coming on?

•••

News flash: It turns out UM students don’t need expert advice when it comes to controlling underage drinking. College students, after all, are already experts in the field. On 89.9 KBGA, the UM student-led Footbridge Forum (a monthly one-hour discussion geared toward solving local problems) just wrapped up its second semester . The topic this fall: “Cocktail Culture.” The difference between this semester and last: “We took experts off the panel at the beginning of the semester,” says Denise Dowling, assistant professor in UM’s radio/television department and Forum adviser. “We found that experts who came in armed with their statistics and professional background in the area made the other panelists feel like their opinions and observations and personal experiences weren’t as valid.”

Executive Producer Beth Saboe adds that experts on the show had tended to dominate the conversation, making the program fairly dry.

Enter the panelists for “Cocktail Culture”: three UM students, one Big Sky High School student, one Missoula mom who is also a UM career counselor, and a Finn and Porter bartender. Dowling says these “non-expert” discussions were supplemented with a separate “mini-forum” once a month when local experts talked one-on-one with the Forum hosts. In a format arguably reminiscent of the 2004 presidential debates, experts’ comments were relayed to panelists, but experts and panelists did not speak directly to each other.

After the last broadcast on Nov. 22, student Forum leaders compiled a list of ideas to address local underage drinking problems—and, impressively, their list looks a lot like an expert’s. When Dowling gives a few quick examples of ideas on the students’ list, she nails three of the “Top 10 Things Parents Can Do” listed on the American Medical Association’s Alcohol & Health website: “Increase alcohol excise taxes”; “Step Up Enforcement”; “Implement Comprehensive School Health Programs.”

That’s all well and good, but we’re still a bit hung up on that bit about students feeling “invalidated” by experts sharing their, umm, knowledge. We thought that was the point of university, but apparently lack of knowledge makes students feel bad, so it shouldn’t be pointed out.

In that spirit, here’s a topic for next year’s Footbridge Forum: Self-esteem—does everyone deserve it?

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