Death by Peanut Butter

Mmm….there’s nothing like a good peanut butter and salmonella sandwich.

FDA Was Aware of Dangers To Food

The Food and Drug Administration has known for years about contamination problems at a Georgia peanut butter plant and on California spinach farms that led to disease outbreaks that killed three people, sickened hundreds, and forced one of the biggest product recalls in U.S. history, documents and interviews show.

Overwhelmed by huge growth in the number of food processors and imports, however, the agency took only limited steps to address the problems and relied on producers to police themselves, according to agency documents.

Congressional critics and consumer advocates said both episodes show that the agency is incapable of adequately protecting the safety of the food supply.

FDA officials conceded that the agency’s system needs to be overhauled to meet today’s demands, but contended that the agency could not have done anything to prevent either contamination episode.

You know what you could have done, you jackasses? You could have done your damn jobs.

They knew the peanut butter may have been unsafe. And they let it go anyway.

Because the Food and Drug Administration cares more about Big Bidniz than keeping your children alive.

Last week, the FDA notified California state health officials that hogs on a farm in the state had likely eaten feed laced with melamine, an industrial chemical blamed for the deaths of dozens of pets in recent weeks. Officials are trying to determine whether the chemical’s presence in the hogs represents a threat to humans.

Hint: eating an animal that’s been accidentally fed industrial chemicals is bad for you. This has been Science for Complete Morons 101.

Pork from animals raised on the farm has been recalled. The FDA has said its inspectors probably would not have found the contaminated food before problems arose. The tainted additive caused a recall of more than 100 different brands of pet food.

The outbreaks point to a need to change the way the agency does business, said Robert E. Brackett, director of the FDA’s food-safety arm, which is responsible for safeguarding 80 percent of the nation’s food supply.

Seriously? You think?

“This administration does not like regulation, this administration does not like spending money, and it has a hostility toward government. The poisonous result is that a program like the FDA is going to suffer at every turn of the road,” said Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the full House committee. Dingell is considering introducing legislation to boost the agency’s accountability, regulatory authority and budget.

In the peanut butter case, an agency report shows that FDA inspectors checked into complaints about salmonella contamination in a ConAgra Foods factory in Georgia in 2005. But when company managers refused to provide documents the inspectors requested, the inspectors left and did not follow up.

Sweet fancy Moses! Are you kidding me? That’s it?!

“We suspect your factory has a salmonella problem. We’d like to look at some documentation to make sure you’re not, you know, killing children.”

“No.”

“Oh. Okay, then. Have a nice day!”

As Allah is my witness, those inspectors should go to jail, as should their superiors. That is beyond reprehensible. That’s immoral. That’s criminal damn negligence.

A salmonella outbreak that began last August and was traced to the plant’s Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter brands sickened more than 400 people in 44 states. The likely cause, ConAgra said, was moisture from a roof leak and a malfunctioning sprinkler system that activated dormant salmonella. The plant has since been closed.

During the inspection, the report says, ConAgra admitted it had destroyed some product in October 2004 but would not say why.

And they should be joined in stir by a whole bunch of ConAgra folks.

My God, it’s like Upton Sinclair never wrote The Jungle, or that the desperately needed reforms that book led to never happened.

They happened, of course. They’re just being rolled back. Because your kids aren’t as important as money.

The FDA has known even longer about illnesses among people who ate spinach and other greens from California’s Salinas Valley, the source of outbreaks over the past six months that have killed three people and sickened more than 200 in 26 states. The subsequent recall was the largest ever for leafy vegetables.

In a letter sent to California growers in late 2005, Brackett wrote, “FDA is aware of 18 outbreaks of foodborne illness since 1995 caused by [E. coli bacteria] for which fresh or fresh-cut lettuce was implicated. . . . In one additional case, fresh-cut spinach was implicated. These 19 outbreaks account for approximately 409 reported cases of illness and two deaths.”

“We know that there are still problems out in those fields,” Brackett said in an interview last week. “We knew there had been a problem, but we never and probably still could not pinpoint where the problem was. We could have that capability, but not at this point.”

According to Caroline Smith DeWaal, who heads the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer-advocacy group, “When budgets are tight . . . the food program at FDA gets hit the hardest.”

In next year’s budget, passed amid discovery of contamination problems in spinach, tomatoes and lettuce, Congress has voted the FDA a $10 million increase to improve food safety, DeWaal said. The Agriculture Department, which monitors meat, poultry and eggs and keeps inspectors in every processing plant, got an increase 10 times that amount to help pay for its inspection programs. The FDA visits problem food plants about once a year and the rest far less frequently, Brackett said.

A $10 million increase. For the entire year. Just for reference: that is, conservatively, what the occupation of Iraq costs us every ninety minutes.

William Hubbard, who retired as associate commissioner of the FDA in 2005 and founded the advocacy group Coalition for a Stronger FDA, said that when he joined the agency in the 1970s, its food safety arm claimed half its budget and personnel.

“Now it’s about a quarter . . . at a time in which the problems have grown, the size of the industry has grown and imports of food have skyrocketed,” Hubbard said.

Police themselves, huh? Tell you what, why don’t we let taxpayers all just, you know, police themselves comes tax time? Or, hey, you know what, let’s let broadcaster police themselves—I’m sure none of them would show, say, graphic sex during prime time, right? We can trust them. And if they do, you know, “slip” and show something, well, I’m sure they’ll feel bad. No need for any punitive measures. Of any sort.

Hey! Let’s let airline passengers police themselves! After all, we all hate those long lines. I’m sure it’ll be fine.

For that matter, let’s just bring all our troops home now and let the Iraqis police themselves.

I mean, why stop with making sure the foods our children eat are safe? I’m sure they are. Aren’t you?

Of course, the question is: these are what we know about. (What we know about now—the FDA’s known about these and who knows what else for years.)

What else have we not heard about yet?

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About the other scott peterson

Writer of comics and books and stuff.
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2 Responses to Death by Peanut Butter

  1. Tom E. says:

    Your kids aren’t as important as money.. That could be the motto of the GOP, you know, the prolife crowd.

  2. scott says:

    Fear of Eating
    by Paul Krugman
    Yesterday I did something risky: I ate a salad.
    These are anxious days at the lunch table. For all you know, there may be E. coli on your spinach, salmonella in your peanut butter and melamine in your pet’s food and, because it was in the feed, in your chicken sandwich.
    Who’s responsible for the new fear of eating? Some blame globalization; some blame food-producing corporations; some blame the Bush administration. But I blame Milton Friedman.
    Now, those who blame globalization do have a point. U.S. officials can’t inspect overseas food-processing plants without the permission of foreign governments — and since the Food and Drug Administration has limited funds and manpower, it can inspect only a small percentage of imports. This leaves American consumers effectively dependent on the quality of foreign food-safety enforcement. And that’s not a healthy place to be, especially when it comes to imports from China, where the state of food safety is roughly what it was in this country before the Progressive movement.
    The Washington Post, reviewing F.D.A. documents, found that last month the agency detained shipments from China that included dried apples treated with carcinogenic chemicals and seafood “coated with putrefying bacteria.” You can be sure that a lot of similarly unsafe and disgusting food ends up in American stomachs.
    Those who blame corporations also have a point. In 2005, the F.D.A. suspected that peanut butter produced by ConAgra, which sells the product under multiple brand names, might be contaminated with salmonella. According to The New York Times, “when agency inspectors went to the plant that made the peanut butter, the company acknowledged it had destroyed some product but declined to say why,” and refused to let the inspectors examine its records without a written authorization.
    According to the company, the agency never followed through. This brings us to our third villain, the Bush administration.
    Without question, America’s food safety system has degenerated over the past six years. We don’t know how many times concerns raised by F.D.A. employees were ignored or soft-pedaled by their superiors. What we do know is that since 2001 the F.D.A. has introduced no significant new food safety regulations except those mandated by Congress.
    This isn’t simply a matter of caving in to industry pressure. The Bush administration won’t issue food safety regulations even when the private sector wants them. The president of the United Fresh Produce Association says that the industry’s problems “can’t be solved without strong mandatory federal regulations”: without such regulations, scrupulous growers and processors risk being undercut by competitors more willing to cut corners on food safety. Yet the administration refuses to do more than issue nonbinding guidelines.
    Why would the administration refuse to regulate an industry that actually wants to be regulated? Officials may fear that they would create a precedent for public-interest regulation of other industries. But they are also influenced by an ideology that says business should never be regulated, no matter what.

    The economic case for having the government enforce rules on food safety seems overwhelming. Consumers have no way of knowing whether the food they eat is contaminated, and in this case what you don’t know can hurt or even kill you. But there are some people who refuse to accept that case, because it’s ideologically inconvenient.
    That’s why I blame the food safety crisis on Milton Friedman, who called for the abolition of both the food and the drug sides of the F.D.A. What would protect the public from dangerous or ineffective drugs? “It’s in the self-interest of pharmaceutical companies not to have these bad things,” he insisted in a 1999 interview. He would presumably have applied the same logic to food safety (as he did to airline safety): regardless of circumstances, you can always trust the private sector to police itself.
    O.K., I’m not saying that Mr. Friedman directly caused tainted spinach and poisonous peanut butter. But he did help to make our food less safe, by legitimizing what the historian Rick Perlstein calls “E. coli conservatives”: ideologues who won’t accept even the most compelling case for government regulation.
    Earlier this month the administration named, you guessed it, a “food safety czar.” But the food safety crisis isn’t caused by the arrangement of the boxes on the organization chart. It’s caused by the dominance within our government of a literally sickening ideology.

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