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36 Million Pounds of Cargill Turkey Recalled as Budget Cuts Weaken Oversight of Food Safety

Food safety advocates say this latest outbreak shows how budget cuts have hampered the ability of federal and state health agencies to effectively protect public health.

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PATTY LOVERA: So this is really—it’s not new, but it’s finally getting more attention, is this issue that most, the majority of, antibiotics in this country are actually used to raise livestock. They’re not used to treat sick people. And they’re actually used to promote the growth of livestock. They’re not necessarily used to treat them when they’re ill. They’re used to make them grow faster and deal with the tough environments they’re living in, on large, you know, factory farms.

And so, because of that, we’ve kind of created a situation that’s a really ideal environment for the bacteria to become resistant to the antibiotics, and we’re starting to see more and more problems, whether it’s in human diseases or in—now we’re seeing more and more bacteria popping up in food recalls, where they don’t respond to antibiotics. And this is just the latest example of that. So lots of folks working in the public health arena in the medical community, are very worried about why we are creating such ideal conditions where bacteria can learn to beat these drugs. And we don’t necessarily have new ones. I mean, antibiotics are a really important resource. We shouldn’t necessarily be using them in this way that makes them ineffective.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about such large agribusiness companies, the meat giant Cargill, and what it means? When you have one area that’s contaminated, so many more people get sick.

PATTY LOVERA: It’s really becoming a theme in the kind of things we’re seeing in the food system. We were having much of the same conversation about eggs last summer, when half a billion eggs got recalled from two plants in Iowa. As we’ve consolidated our food system and consolidated agriculture, when something goes wrong in one place, in one plant, like we’re talking about all of this meat coming from one plant in Arkansas, and it can impact the entire country, when grocery stores across the country have to respond to something going wrong in one plant, that should give us pause to think about why we’ve structured our food system this way. We’ve really set the stakes very, very high, that if something goes wrong in one place, we no longer have a local or regional problem, we have a national problem.

And this has been happening year after year. We’re seeing this from peanut butter to spinach to eggs to meat. It’s something that’s happening in every part of the food supply. We’ve really lost a lot of the local and regional production, and now we have national production. And the industry constantly talks about how efficient and how great that is. And this is a very visible example of one of the costs of doing it that way.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking about this one outbreak, but these figures—just as I was leaving my apartment today, I saw an ad come up from the Ad Council and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, talking about how you should deal with meat and be very careful. And it says 3,000 people die a year of food poisoning. That’s more than eight people a day. Fifty million people take ill every year because of food poisoning? That’s 137,000 people a day. Patty?

PATTY LOVERA: Yeah, I mean, it really is kind of a staggering thing to tackle. And we have a lot of systems, and we have a lot of regulations in place, when it comes to meat and poultry. Obviously we need to be talking about how to make them work better. In other parts of the food supply, we don’t even have that much regulation. So I think it’s this kind of undiscussed, kind of constant thing that we’re—you know, that has become normal, and that’s really not acceptable.

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