Forget The Hunger Games. Today in America, we're all playing The Eating Games and here’s how it’s played: eat something and hope it doesn't kill you. Let’s review some of the different ways this game is being played this week.
First came news on Monday that Jensen Farms in Colorado, which was identified as the source of a deadly listeria outbreak last fall involving cantaloupes, killing 30 and sickening 146, may be close to settling. “Bill Marler, a lawyer for 39 of the plaintiffs, said the settlement also could include a company that manufactures and imports food-processing equipment and a firm that did a safety audit of the farm.” That’s good news (assuming the bankruptcy judge approves it now that Jensen has filed for Chapter 11). For more on Jensen, the listeria outbreak and the failure of safety audits, see the Center for Justice & Democracy’s recent report, Our Fatal Food Attraction; Regulatory Failures and the Civil Justice System.
Next came news Wednesday that the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, "approved funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for fiscal year 2013 with no new funding for food safety.” (emphasis added) At least the subcommittee didn’t cut the budget, as threatened. But given the distressing state of food safety - especially when it comes to the FDA, charged with regulating everything besides meat, poultry, processed egg products and catfish while only inspecting facilities every 5-10 years (learn more here), this isn’t great news. Plus, the FDA is trying to obtain “substantially more resources to help implement the Food Safety Modernization Act," signed into law in 2011, which is supposed to improve things except there’s never been funding to implement it.
Then we learned,
As part of President Obama's push to streamline regulations on businesses, the U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to let chicken slaughterhouses run production lines faster and with fewer federal inspectors, angering food safety advocates and poultry plant workers.
Under the proposal, production lines would be allowed to move 25% faster, while the government would cut by as much as 75% the number of line inspectors eyeing chicken bodies for defects before the carcasses are packaged for consumption.…
Tony Corbo, at the health advocacy group Food and Water Watch, calls it "a privatization of poultry inspection" because plant employees would be responsible for spotting and removing defective chickens. Consumer advocates said the rising rates of salmonella infection in recent years should give pause to any plans to cut the number of federal inspectors at poultry plants.
Yuck. On the other hand, “the National Chicken Council” and its $45-billion-a-year poultry industry client loves the idea.
Interestingly, writes the LA Times, “Most poultry plants are located in the South.” Speaking of which, we also learned this week that federal and state health officials in the South are trying to figure out the source of “what appears to be a multistate E. coli outbreak that recently took the life of a 21-month-old child in Louisiana.” Ironically, as ABC News points out, “The largest cluster of five sickened people, ranging in age from 18 to 52, is centered in Atlanta [Georgia], home to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
My first thought after reading all this was to jump on the vegan bandwagon with President Clinton and Michelle Pfeiffer. But what good will that do, with lethal cantaloupes roaming around out there? I’m open to suggestions.