andrew schneider investigates

February 26, 2008

Unsafe food debated on Capitol Hill

Filed under: FDA,Food Safety,Public health legislation,Risks to children — Andrew Schneider @ 13:29

The House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, trying to find an answer to the growing reports of tainted and deadly food, found themselves dealing with a full plate of potentially lethal problems today.

E. coli in bagged spinach sickened 204 people and killed three.

Salmonella found in tomatoes sickened 183 people.

Lettuce contaminated with E. coli at Taco Bell and Taco John restaurants sickened 152 people.

Peter Pan peanut butter contaminated with Salmonella sickened 425 people.

100 brands of tainted pet food were recalled after sickening and killing thousands of pets.

A nationwide recall of fresh spinach occurred following discovery of salmonella in a test batch.

Frozen pot pies carrying salmonella were recalled after illnesses were reported in 31 States.

And, of course, the nearly 144 million pounds of beef were recalled by Westland/Hallmark Meat Packing Company after being determined to be unfit for human consumption.

Lawmakers heard testimony from representative of the nation’s largest food producers and a Seattle lawyer who has handled hundreds of victims of a broken food safety system.


William Marler

“It is clear our regulatory system is broken. I urge industry to provide serious recommendations and, more importantly, strongly support legislation that will ensure food safety. The time has passed for half measures or asking regulators to do more with less. Our health is at stake,” said Rep. John Dingell, the Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Seattle lawyer William Marler gave the lawmaker an up close and personal view of many victims of food poisoning that he had encountered.

Marler, who has been involved in food safety litigation since the ’70s, offered the committee specific recommendation on how the nation’s food safety system should be improved.

Create a local, state and national public health system that catches outbreaks before they balloon into a personal and business catastrophe, he said. He explained that everyone believed that the Jack in the Box outbreak that killed four and sickened scores of others started in Seattle in January 1993. But he said it actually began three months earlier “when another child died and another 30 people were sickened in Southern California. He said E. coli was not a reportable illness at the time, “the death and illnesses were not recognized as an outbreak and the contaminated meat was shipped to Seattle.”

He said that food must be inspected and sampled before it is consumed. He reminded the committee members that the GAO has warned in the past that our food sampling and inspection is so scattered and infrequent that there is little chance of detecting microscopic E. coli or any other pathogen for that matter.

Consumers, he said, need to know what is being recalled. Voluntary recalls don’t work.

Marler warned that turf wars and split responsibilities are gutting the effectiveness of the nation’s food safety system and the three federal agencies responsible – CDC, FDA and USDA � should have the food safety mandates merged and properly staffed and funded.

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