Republicans Keep Pushing Food Safety Lenience as Hundreds Get Sick from Tainted Cantaloupe
You may not have heard of this story. I know I hadn't, but a Listeria bacterial outbreak in cantaloupe grown in Colorado has killed 21 people, and made 109 sick according to the latest figures released by Centers for Disease Control. More deaths are possible:
An outbreak of listeria in cantaloupe has sickened at least 109 people and led to 21 deaths, tying for the deadliest food poisoning toll in more than a decade, federal health officials said Friday. [...]
Federal officials have cautioned consumers to expect growing numbers of deaths and illnesses tied to the recall of more than 300,000 cases of Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes by Jensen Farms of Holly, Colo.
Illnesses have now been reported in 23 states. Deaths have been confirmed in 11 states, including five in Colorado, five in New Mexico, two each in Texas and Kansas and one each in Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma and Wyoming. State health officials continue to investigate suspected cases tied to the outbreak.
A 2010 law increased the FDA's authority to regulate and shut down any food related business that failed to respond adequately to FDA warnings that the business' practices were unsafe. Yet Republicans in Congress have worked tirelessly to cut funding to implement that law. Follow me below the fold, to understand what is at stake for the lives and health of Americans and the cost to our economy from a compromised food supply.
Listeria is a species of bacteria usually found in contaminated meat. That's because it is tied to animal sources. Even dogs and cats can be sources. Listeriosis is the specific disease that is caused by this bacteria, and unfortunately it has a long incubation period. It can take as long as 2 months before people start showing symptoms. It is particularly dangerous to people at risk, i.e., Pregnant women and their fetuses, newborns, cancer patients, the elderly and anyone with a lowered immune system. Considering the number of individuals with auto-immune disorders who take medications that lower their immune system (people with Multiple sclerosis, asthma, crohns disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, etc.) listeria is not a threat to take lightly. Major symptoms can include fever, diarrhea, nausea, muscle aches, and in the worst cases, meningitis and brain abscesses. It's nothing to brush off as the cost of doing business.
Microbiologist Peter Muriana and horticulturist Brandenberger agree that listeria bacteria can originate from any animal source, including dogs and cats, as long as they shed any of these bacteria in their feces and then come in contact with food materials. [...]
Muriana, a professor with Robert M. Kerr Food & Agricultural Products Centre at OSU, believes the disease can pop up on any farm or market as long as the conditions that cause it exist.
“It could be anything that is grown outside and consumed without cooking,” Muriana said. Not only cantaloupes, but also fruits and vegetables can equally pick up listeria-like pathogens and transmit them to human beings since they are largely eaten raw.
Lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, tomatoes, pepper, among others, need safety measures as much as strawberries, apples, and peaches.
In 2010, when the Democrats controlled the House, Congress passed a law known as the Food Safety Modernization Actor FSMA. that was supposed to increase the powers of the FDA to regulate foreign and domestic sources of food sold in America. Here's a summary of its provisions from the White House website.
Each year, foodborne illness strikes 48 million Americans, hospitalizing a hundred thousand and killing thousands. I thank the President and members of Congress for recognizing that the burden that foodborne illness places on the American people is too great, and for taking this action.Unfortunately, the Congress this year, in which the Republicans now control the House of Representatives has not made funding the safety and prevention requirements mandated by the FSMA a priority. Quite the contrary. House Republicans decided to slash funding for the FDA, which would make implementation of the food safety prevention regime the law was passed to establish impossible.
The historic legislation the President will sign tomorrow directs the Food and Drug Administration, working with a wide range of public and private partners, to build a new system of food safety oversight – one focused on applying, more comprehensively than ever, the best available science and good common sense to prevent the problems that can make people sick.
The idea of prevention is not new. FDA has established prevention-oriented standards and rules for seafood, juice, and eggs, as has the U.S. Department of Agriculture for meat and poultry, and many in the food industry have pioneered “best practices” for prevention. What’s new is the recognition that, for all the strengths of the American food system, a breakdown at any point on the farm-to-table spectrum can cause catastrophic harm to the health of consumers and great disruption and economic loss to the food industry.
So, we need to look at the food system as a whole, be clear about the food safety responsibility of all of its participants, and strengthen accountability for prevention throughout the entire food system – domestically and internationally. The new law meets these needs in numerous ways.
For example, processors of all types of food will now be required to evaluate the hazards in their operations, implement and monitor effective measures to prevent contamination, and have a plan in place to take any corrective actions that are necessary. Also, FDA will have much more effective enforcement tools for ensuring those plans are adequate and properly implemented, including mandatory recall authority when needed to swiftly remove contaminated food from the market.
We will, in accordance with the law, establish science-based standards for the safe production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables to minimize the risk of serious illnesses or death, and we will set standards for the safe transportation of food.
Moreover, with the signing of the law, FDA will for the first time have a congressional mandate for risk-based inspection of food processing facilities. For example, all high-risk domestic facilities must be inspected within five years of enactment and no less than every three years thereafter. [...]
Very importantly, the FSMA calls for the strengthening of existing collaboration among all food safety agencies whether they are Federal, state, local, territorial, tribal, or foreign. Among other provisions, the legislation directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to improve training of state, local, territorial and tribal food safety officials and authorizes grants for training, conducting inspections, building capacity of labs and food safety programs, and other food safety activities. Building and leveraging the capacity of these food safety partners is how we can have a well-integrated, national food safety system that is as effective and efficient as it can be.
Now, the task falls to the FDA to carry out the direction we’ve been given. We are hard at work planning how we will put this law into effect. As we look to make the improvements called for in the legislation, we must ask ourselves many questions. What resources do we already have? What resources will we need? Where will those resources come from? Already we know that the legislation did not include sufficient fee resources to cover the costs of the new requirements. In that, we will look to Congress to work with us to ensure that FDA has what’s needed to achieve our shared food safety and food defense goals.
This law represents a sea change for food safety in America, bringing a new focus on prevention, and I expect that in the coming years it will have a dramatic and positive effect on the safety of the food supply.
Budget cuts proposed by House Republicans to the Food and Drug Administration would undermine the agency's ability to carry out a historic food-safety law passed by Congress just five months ago, food-safety supporters say. [...]Well, playing around with the lives of real Americans ((not the fictional ones known as corporations) is not surprising considering that it is the goal of the Republican Party to make the federal Government as ineffective as possible in order to win elections. In particular, they wish to make government appear weak and unable to address issues like food safety to make it easier to defeat Barack Obama. And unfortunately for the safety and health of Americans not named Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Exxon Mobil, etc., they are succeeding:
To carry out the new law, President Obama is seeking $955 million for food safety at the FDA in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
Last week, the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the FDA pared back that amount to $750 million, which is $87 million less than the figure the agency is currently receiving for food safety. [...]
Food safety supporters said that without additional money - let alone the current funding the FDA receives - the agency will not be able to meet many requirements of the new law, including increased inspections of food manufacturing plants, better coordination with state health departments and development of the capability to more respond quickly to food-borne illnesses to reduce their impact.
Richard D. Saunders, deputy director of Virginia's Division of Animal and Food Industry Services, questions the wisdom of passing the law " if you're going to turn around and cut FDA's funding ... FDA has never had enough funding to begin with."
Federal agencies entrusted with the safety of the nation’s food supply routinely fail to prevent bacteria-infected food from reaching grocery stores and restaurants, putting millions of Americans at risk. [...]When you shortchange spending on preventing disease, guess what goers up? Health care costs! Drowning the government in a bathtub may seem like a grand idea to some Randian cultists, but it has real effects on the lives of individuals and the economy. People die, people get sick and the risng costs of health care necessary to treat the diseases that spending on food safety could prevent becomes an even larger anchor on our economy.
Just this year, contaminated hazelnuts, cantaloupe, bologna, sprouts, papayas and two types of turkey all have caused outbreaks of E. coli and salmonella illnesses in the U.S. [...]
In January 2011, Congress gave hefty new responsibilities to the FDA when it passed the Food Safety Modernization Act. But the U.S. House of Representatives passed a budget this summer that would cut FDA funding by nearly 12 percent, jeopardizing implementation of the first major update to food safety regulation in more than 70 years.
The act gives the FDA authority to shut down companies that don’t respond to its warnings. It also increases the number of overseas inspections by the FDA 30-fold over the next six years – a goal that will be “impossible … without a substantial increase in resources or a complete overhaul in the way it operates,” according to a July 2011 FDA report. [...]
When federal regulators fail to prevent unsafe food from entering the marketplace, state and local health departments provide a last line of defense, but insufficient resources can prevent them from being effective. For example, in Rhode Island, where seven health inspectors are responsible for more than 8,000 food establishments, a bakery sickened 78 people in March 2011 with pastries stored in salmonella-tainted egg crates, hospitalizing 28 and killing two.
Food-borne illnesses cost the United States $152 billion a year, a tab that works out to an average cost of $1,850 each time someone gets sick from food, a report by a former Food and Drug Administration economist says.One Hundred Fifty-two Billion Dollars per year! That's what failing to adequately fund the FDA and other state and local food safety agencies costs the American economy. That's what it cost us in economic losses (not to mention the thousands of lives lost on which no value can be placed what we keep the taxes of Billionaires like Dan Syder, who just spent an estimated $70 Million on a yacht, lower than the tax burden on you and me. You want to know why those people (the ones whose complaints the media can't pr won't bother to understand) are protesting all across the country? Because while the US government has spent or guaranteed 12.5 TRILLION DOLLARS to bail out the Banksters on Wall Street that crashed our economy and are actively at work to destroy the middle class, their Republican minions in Congress won't spend an extra $205 Hundred Million to help improve the safety of the food we eat.
"A lot of people don't realize how expensive food-borne illnesses are," says Robert Scharff, a former FDA regulatory economist and now a professor of consumer science at Ohio State University. "It's important for the public to understand the size of this problem.
You know what percentage of $12.5 Trillion $205 Hundred Million represents? 0.00164%. A percentage so small it boggles the mind that the Republican presidential candidates are protecting and praising those same Banks that took those Trillions of Dollars, while their counterparts in the House are seeking to cut money the FDA needs to enforce the laws regarding food safety. And even that $205 Hundred Million isn't enough, but its better than the amount Republicans deem sufficient, even as people die and our health care costs soar, because they would rather protect the profits of Big Business, the salaries and bonuses of incompetent and criminal senior corporate executives and keep the taxes actually paid by the richest 1% of Americans at the lowest levels they have been in decades.
Imagine the savings to our economy if we spent even 2% of the cost to our economy each year of food borne diseases to fund the FDA's food safety programs? A mere $3 Billion Dollars would go a long way to make our food supply safer and lower the $152 Billion burden to our economy for which food borne diseases are responsible. Of course, you and I know that Congress would never pass funding for that amount. That would make government too effective and lower the profits of Agribusiness too much to ever please Republicans (and I suspect may Democrats in Farm states).
Instead we will take that same $3 Billion and use it to provide Israel with military aid, or pay for the cost of one month for the war in Afghanistan, or 7.3% of the 41 Billion in subsidies we give Big Oil. Meanwhile, instead we willcontinue to allow the following to happen every year because Republicans don't want government to help people:
Scharff worked with government estimates that there are 76 million food-related illnesses a year, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths.
The costs [i.e., the aforementioned $152 Billion per year cost to our economy related to inadequate food safety] include medical services, deaths, lost work and disability. They are based on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA.
And you people in the elitist corporate media don't understand why these people are protesting?