CQR Food Safety
Published by CQ Press, a Division of SAGE
Would new legislation make the food supply safer?
our food can kill you. Every year, about 3,000
Americans die from salmonella and other foodborne illnesses, and an estimated 48 million are
sickened. Recent scandals over abysmal sanitary
conditions in food processing plants that led to large disease out-
breaks in eggs and peanuts have pushed Congress to overhaul the
food-safety system for all foods except meat and poultry. A lastminute hitch, however, has left the fate of that bipartisan legislation
uncertain, despite support from an unusual alliance of industry
and consumer advocates. If it wins enactment, advocates may
push for revamping meat regulation. Far more disagreement exists
A USDA medical officer checks eggs for salmonella
bacteria. Massive health violations by Iowa egg
processors led to salmonella contamination that
sickened at least 1,600 people nationwide this year
and sparked the biggest egg recall in U.S. history.
on the controversial genetic frontier of food safety. Scientists can
now genetically modify fruits and vegetables as well as livestock
and other food animals. But debate over the safety of genetic
modification among lawmakers, food safety officials, consumer
groups and the food industry shows no sign of quieting down.
CQ Researcher • Dec. 17, 2010 • www.cqresearcher.com
Volume 20, Number 44 • Pages 1037-1060
THE ISSUES ..................1039
CURRENT SITUATION ......1051
RECIPIENT OF SOCIETY OF PROFESSIONAL JOURNALISTS AWARD FOR
EXCELLENCE ◆ AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION SILVER GAVEL AWARD
THE NEXT STEP ............1059
• Would new legislation
make food safer?
• Are imports a bigger
problem than domestically
• Are genetic modifications
and livestock hormones as
dangerous as salmonella
and other pathogens?
Reducing the Risk of
Poultry, meat and eggs
should be cooked thoroughly.
Outrage and Regulation
Revelations about Chicago’s
meatpacking plants led to
federal food inspection.
Millions Sickened by
An estimated 5,000 Americans
die each year.
A System Transformed
Globalized food production
changed Americans’ eating
Bacterial pathogens cause the
most prevalent illnesses.
Key events since 1905.
Contaminated Food’s Toll:
Sickness, Agony and
“A lot of survivors are faced
with lifelong illness.”
Genes and Drugs
In the 1970s consumer
advocates warned about
Food-borne illnesses have
cropped up repeatedly
over the past 20 years.
Efforts to give the FDA
more power have stalled.
FDA approval for altering
Down to the Wire
Prospects for a food-safety
bill this year are dim.
Cover: U.S.D.A./Stephen Ausmus
SIDEBARS AND GRAPHICS
Recalls Occurred in
More than 2,500 occurred
Small Fraction of Food
Imports Are Inspected
Most shipments pass.
How to Handle a Recalled
Here are tips from the Food
and Drug Administration.
Would strengthening FDA
regulatory authority improve
FOR FURTHER RESEARCH
For More Information
Organizations to contact.
Selected sources used.
The Next Step
Citing CQ Researcher
Sample bibliography formats.
Dec. 17, 2010
Volume 20, Number 44
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BY PETER KATEL
state inspectors, found after
the outbreak that Peanut Corp.
of America’s own factory tests
he report made for
had turned up salmonella 12
poor breakfast reading
times since 2007. The Virginia— especially if eggs
based company has filed for
were on the menu.
bankruptcy protection. 5
“Chicken manure located
Most victims of a foodin the manure pits below
borne illness suffer nothing
the egg laying operation was
more serious than a stomach
observed to be approxidisorder that they can shake
mately 4 feet high to 8 feet
off, but thousands of others
high,” government inspecaren’t so lucky. “I spent 12
tors wrote in August. “The
hours in the ER, so sick they
outside access doors to the
were scared to move me,”
manure pits . . . had been
Sarah Lewis, 30, of Freedom,
pushed out by the weight
Calif., told lawmakers of her
of the manure.” 1
experience after she ate a
And the list of food-safety
custard tart at a banquet.
hazards didn’t stop there, as
Eggs in the custard were
U.S. Food and Drug Administraced to the Iowa farms.
tration (FDA) investigators
“They thought they were
roamed farms in Clarion and
going to have to do emerGalt, Iowa. “Live and dead flies
gency bowel surgery because
too numerous to count were
the CT scan showed bowels
observed,” they reported. “In
that were so inflamed and so
Packages of recalled peanut butter crackers await
pickup at an Indianapolis food bank last year. Nine
addition, live and dead magsick I was put in ICU.” 6
salmonellagots too numerous to count
After recovering, Lewis had
contaminated peanut products from a Georgia
were observed,” as well as
be hospitalized again less
processing plant where inspectors found
“holes appearing to be rodent
three weeks later. And
blatant violations of food-safety standards.
burrows located along the seceven after that, she testified,
ond floor baseboards.” 2
“I had to be on antibiotics
DeCoster insisted that the farm main- every six hours for the next 14 days.
The report made prime fare for a
September congressional hearing into tained salmonella-prevention mea- And all during this I found out that
the outbreak of egg-borne salmonella sures beyond those required by the the salmonella was still present and
poisoning that sickened at least 1,600 FDA. He blamed an outside animal raging in my body. I still have severe
people nationwide starting in May. feed supplier for the outbreak.
cramping, diarrhea, fevers.” 7
Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy
The bacteria apparently had migrated
The U.S. Centers for Disease Confrom chickens’ innards to eggshells, FDA commissioner, later disputed the trol and Prevention (CDC) estimates
though egg farms are supposed to re- feed-supplier hypothesis. “The FDA has that 3,000 people a year die from taintnot reached that conclusion at all,” he ed food or drink, and that 48 million
“Why did companies with a record of told reporters outside the hearing. 4
are sickened. And, like Lewis, an esThe egg scandal marked the second timated 128,000 are hospitalized.
prior violations not ensure their facilities
were clean and free of rodents?” Rep. such major episode in as many years These numbers are noticeably lower
Michael Doyle, D-Pa., asked as a House involving salmonella-tainted food. Nine than previous estimates from 1999, but
panel grilled Peter DeCoster, chief oper- people died in 2008-2009 after eating CDC scientists wrote that improved
ating officer of his family’s Wright Coun- contaminated peanut products. They data collection and more accurate staty egg operation, and other witnesses. came from a Georgia processing plant tistical techniques have lent greater pre“Why did positive tests for salmonella not where inspectors found blatant viola- cision to the estimating process. What
cause the producers to go into overdrive tions of elementary food-safety standards. hasn’t changed is that pathogens —
The FDA, which had relied on lenient bacteria and viruses that cause illness
to clean up their premises?” 3
AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star/Michelle Pemberton
Dec. 17, 2010
Recalls Occurred in Every State
More than 2,500 recalls of food products occurred nationwide in
the past year. Every state had at least 41 recalls, with the most in
California, Texas, New York and Oregon.
No. of Recalls
41 to 50
51 to 60
61 to 70
More than 71
Sources: Center for Science in the Public Interest, U.S. PIRG and Consumer Federation of America
— have evolved to meet modern conditions. At least four of today’s most
dangerous pathogens weren’t known
to be problematic only three decades
ago. (See box, p. 1044.) 8
Revelations of appalling conditions
behind the egg- and peanut-borne
outbreaks re-energized longstanding efforts to expand federal regulation of
food cultivation and production — the
first overhaul of a system that’s been
in place with few fundamental changes
Shortly after the Thanksgiving holiday, the Senate passed the bipartisan,
comprehensive Food Safety Act that —
unusually — had backing from both
consumer advocates and most major
food-industry lobbies. The House had
passed a nearly identical bill last year.
But the prospects for enactment before year-end have turned complicated. A technical problem with the legislation has led to the need for new
votes in both chambers. If those votes
would not occur, some experts rate the
chances of a food-safety bill passing
next year as dim. Anti-regulatory Republicans, some with Tea Party backing,
will dominate the House when the
new Congress is seated in January.
And the Senate, though still controlled
by Democrats, may lack the votes to
pass a major regulatory overhaul of
the food industry.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., summarized opponents’ objections to the
legislation. “The bill . . . will grow the
government, increase food prices and
drive small producers out of business
without making our food any safer,”
he said after failing to block passage
of the bill on its first vote. 9
Opponents outside Congress include small-farm boosters who distrust
regulators and major food companies
in equal measure. “The bill gives big
firms a competitive advantage over local
food,” says Peter Kennedy, a Sarasota,
Fla., lawyer who is board president of
the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense
Fund, which advocates on behalf of
small farms and raw milk producers
and consumers. He points to what he
calls burdensome paperwork requirements in the proposed federal law.
“The big firms will be able to comply
better than small ones will.”
Nevertheless, the enormity of the
U.S. food system, the speed with which
products move from farm or processing plant to dinner table and the rising volume of imports all argue for updating the regulatory system, proponents
of the legislation say. They cite the system’s origins in an age when farms
grew a variety of crops, food manufacturers tended to be local or regional businesses and most households depended on their own cooking.
“Our agriculture is much more of
a monoculture, and manufacturing
processes have become much more
integrated, so when there’s a mistake
it gets amplified quickly,” says William
Marler, a Seattle lawyer who has specialized in representing victims of
food-borne illness outbreaks since a
deadly 1993 episode involving hamburgers from the Jack in the Box fastfood chain.
To be sure, Marler says, outbreaks
of illness, for all of their sometimes
tragic outcomes, aren’t the norm. “We
have a surprisingly safe food supply,”
he says. “Businesses do a good job of
not poisoning the vast majority of us.”
The pending legislation attempts to
match the speed with which contaminated food can reach consumers by
granting the FDA power to order food
recalls. Consumers may assume otherwise, but the government now lacks
recall authority, though officials can
usually pressure firms into withdrawing food from the market when contamination is suspected or proved. 10
Other provisions would require
adoption of a method for preventing
contamination that is already widely
used in the food industry. And inspections of companies shipping food
to the United States would be stepped
up by authorizing “third parties” —
foreign governments or private firms
— to do the work.
Advocates of the food-safety bill
argue that today’s conditions demand
increased government authority, combined with a strategy of curbing outbreaks by emphasizing prevention. “Our
food-safety strategies historically have
relied upon finding the needle in the
haystack,” says Scott Faber, vice president for federal affairs at the Grocery
Manufacturers of America. “The bill reflects a new philosophy which tries
to reduce the likelihood of contamination in the first place.”
Over the past 20 years, as consumers
have become accustomed to fresh produce and processed foods from all over
the world, outbreaks have routinely
covered big regions. In one 2006 case,
the FDA warned U.S. consumers nationwide not to eat fresh bagged spinach
while investigators traced a contaminant that had killed three people and
The following year, pet owners reported thousands of dog and cat
deaths from Chinese pet food deliberately tainted with a deadly industrial
chemical meant to resemble protein
concentrate. Humans weren’t harmed
— except in China, where the same
chemical was included in powdered
milk and baby formula. But no one
looking at food imports from China,
which tripled to $5.8 billion from 2001
to 2008, could take much reassurance
from the fact that harmful ingredients
hadn’t yet been found in Chineseproduced food for people. 11
Food-safety advocates don’t see the
2010 legislation — if it passes — as the
culmination of all their efforts. Some
point to a need to update the meat and
poultry regulatory system that the Agriculture Department runs. And many are
demanding tougher government scrutiny of genetically modified foods (often
known as GMOs, genetically modified
organisms), the use of growth-inducing
substances fed to livestock and certain
plastics used in food packaging.
Reducing the Risk of Food-borne Illness
The following simple precautions can make food safer, according to
the U.S. Centers for Disease Control:
Cook: Cook meat, poultry and eggs thoroughly.
Getty Images/Frazer Harrison
Measure the internal temperature of meat to
ensure it is cooked sufficiently to kill bacteria. For
example, ground beef should be cooked inside to
160o F. Eggs should be cooked until the yolk is
Separate: Avoid cross-contaminating foods
Getty Images/David McNew
by washing hands, utensils and cutting boards
after they have been in contact with raw meat or
poultry and before they touch another food. Put
cooked meat on a clean platter, rather than back
on one that held the raw meat.
Chill: Refrigerate leftovers promptly. Bacteria
Getty Images/Frank Polich
can grow quickly at room temperature, so refrigerate leftover foods if they are not going to be
eaten within four hours. Large volumes of food
will cool more quickly if they are divided into
several shallow containers for refrigeration.
Clean: Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables in
AFP/Getty Images/Romeo Gacad
running water to remove visible dirt and grime.
Discard the outermost leaves of a head of lettuce
or cabbage. Because bacteria can grow well on
the cut surface of fruit or vegetables, do not
contaminate these foods while slicing them on the
cutting board, and avoid leaving cut produce at
room temperature for many hours.
Report: Report suspected food-borne
illnesses to your local health department because
it is an important part of the food-safety system.
Often calls from concerned citizens are how
outbreaks are first detected.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://cdn.publicinterestnetwork.
Nevertheless, some safety advocates
don’t view high-tech food engineering as threatening as pathogens.
“There’s an emotional argument against
GMOs, but I haven’t seen any scien-
tific literature that they’re dangerous,”
says Marler, the food-safety lawyer.
“But maybe that’s because I’m focused on pathogens killing people on
a daily basis.”
Dec. 17, 2010
As food-safety officials and consumers study the food supply system,
here are key questions:
Would new legislation make the
food supply safer?
Questions about the adequacy of
federal food-safety regulation have dominated news coverage of food-borne
illness outbreaks over the past 20
years. Doubts grew even more insistent following the two most recent
In this year’s egg contamination case,
federal and congressional investigations
showed that health issues were nothing new for the DeCosters’ Wright
County Egg operation. The farm had
been declared a “habitual violator” of
environmental laws by the state of
Iowa as far back as 2001 and paid
$219,000 in fines. 12
Since 2008, state inspectors had
found 426 positive test results for salmonella, including 73 potential indicators of the precise strain that sickened at least 1,600 people. 13
Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Pa., chairman of
the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee,
and Sharfstein, the FDA official, used
the September hearing as a forum to
urge Congress to finish work on the
food-safety legislation. Both the House
bill and the similar measure the Senate
passed on Nov. 30 would require the
FDA to order food recalls if a company refuses to do so. They would also
require all producers and processors to
maintain food-safety plans covering every
step of their operations. Whistleblowers
in food facilities would get legal protection for disclosing information about
safety violations. And imports would be
subjected to the same requirements as
domestically produced food. 14
Sharfstein argued that mandatory
recall authority, as well as steady funding from fees imposed on food producers, would ensure more extensive
oversight. “Here’s my bottom line,” he
said. “We need this bill. We need this
Millions Sickened by
An estimated 3,000 Americans
die and 48 million are sickened
each year from tainted food.
Illnesses Hospitalizations Deaths
Sources: “Food Safety in the 111th
Congress: H.R. 2749 and S. 510,”
Congressional Research Service, Dec. 1,
2010; based on Paul S. Mead, et al.,
“Food-related Illness and Death in the
United States,” Emerging Infectious
Diseases, September/October 1999
bill to protect the safety of the food
supply. We need this bill to help us
prevent another egg outbreak just like
the one that we’ve experienced.” 15
Changes in the food system make
the legislation essential, says Marler.
“If you look at the last several years,
the overriding problem has been the
fact that the food industry has gotten so complex, with all these inputs
from a variety of places — small and
larger farms — that industry was only
as strong as its weakest link,” he says.
“What the bill is trying to accomplish
is to deal with all of it, so that industry is not taken down for the bad
practices of one part of the puzzle.”
That overall benefit aside, Marler
says the single most crucial part of the
legislation is often overlooked in the
political debate over regulatory authority. The provision (contained in
both Senate and House versions) would
order FDA to develop methods to rapidly track raw fruits and vegetables, enabling quick identification of the source
of a contamination outbreak. 16 “Right
now, there are some states that do a
great job of surveillance, like Minnesota,
and others — mostly in the South —
that do an incredibly crappy job of
surveillance,” Marler says. The project,
he says, would lead to “a more unified and efficient system for food-borne
Nevertheless, some argue that beefing up the FDA would defeat the purpose of instilling more efficiency in the
food-safety process. Even the legislation’s
proposed requirement of a food-safety
methodology known as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point, or HACCP
— in which each step in a process where
contamination can occur is rigorously
monitored — would become less effective if the legislation were enacted, argues Gregory Conko, a senior fellow at
the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a
pro-business research and advocacy organization. (See “At Issue,” p. 1053.)
“When you get a regulatory agency
involved, in order to make it at all practicable for them, you’ve got to make it
uniform, so that regulators understand
what they’re looking at and how to go
about enforcement and inspection,”
Conko says. “Instead of allowing the plan
to be highly flexible, it ends up instilling rigidities that eliminate the benefits
you might otherwise have gotten.”
And mandatory recall authority likely would make the response to contamination outbreaks less effective,
Conko says. “The benefit of the current
situation is that when the FDA identifies a potential problem, they’ve actually got to go explain to the manufacturer, ‘Here’s why we think the problem
is in your food, and here’s why we
think you should engage in a recall of
these lots,’ ” he argues. “Recalls, when
they happen, are more targeted and
precise. If FDA can order recalls with
no pushback from industry, then political incentives will force it to order lots
of recalls, even where there is limited
evidence that a problem exists in a particular lot or product line.”
Getty Image/Alex Wong
But advocates of the legislation main- there is no case of illness, still be orIn that case, U.S. pet owners retain that the voluntary-recall system has dered to recall a product.”
ported the deaths of as many as 4,000
outlived its usefulness. They point to
Moreover, despite evidence that the dogs and cats. And FDA investigators
this year’s contaminated egg scandal as egg producers this year tolerated health found that melamine also had been
an example. “Having that many eggs hazards, Kennedy asserts that the FDA an ingredient in feed for 6,000 hogs
going out to as many states as they doesn’t need recall authority. “If a firm and almost 3 million chickens inwere going to, you can’t contain an out- thinks its products have made people tended for human consumption in the
break” without more intensive regula- ill, they’re going to get them off the United States. Moreover, in the Chition, says Elizabeth Hitchcock, public market ASAP,” he says. “They’re look- nese market, melamine in baby forhealth advocate for the U.S. Public In- ing at tremendous civil liability dam- mula killed six infants and sickened
terest Research Group (USPIRG), a con- ages they could have to pay. The firm an estimated 300,000 in 2008. (Two
sumer advocacy organization. “It’s a has an incentive to act.”
Chinese businessmen convicted of sellproblem that we can
ing the adulterated prodaddress by requiring
ucts to boost profits were
more frequent inexecuted last year.) 18
The melamine episode
spections and by
showed that food-borne
giving the FDA auillness could stem from
thority to order the
deliberate use of manrecall rather than
made substances, as well
spending time neas carelessness or indifgotiating back and
ference about protection
forth, which slows
from bacteria and virusdown the process of
es. In that light, the ingetting unsafe food
creasing globalization of
off store shelves and
the U.S. food market beout of pantries.”
came an even bigger
worry. Following the
still occur if FDA
melamine episode, The
power were exWashington Post reportpanded, Hitchcock
ed that some foods from
Carol Lobato, left, a Colorado grandmother, told a congressional panel
in September that she fell violently ill after eating a rattlesnake-cake
China that FDA inspecwe can curb the
appetizer containing tainted eggs traced to two Iowa farming
tors had turned away inspread of an outoperations. Sarah Lewis, 30, the California mother of two children,
cluded juices and fruits
break and get food
right, told the panel she “spent hours in the ER” after eating a
described as “filthy,”
off shelves more
custard tart made with contaminated eggs.
prunes colored with
quickly,” she says.
chemical dyes banned for human con“When people buy a can of whatev- Are imports a bigger problem
er it is — ravioli, say — they ought than domestically produced food? sumption, and frozen breaded shrimp
to have some assurance that the food
Most food recalled during the past preserved with nitrofuran, a carcinogenic
was grown safely, packed safely, and, 20 years was domestically grown or antibacterial drug. 19
As those FDA moves show, the
if there is a problem, that the prob- produced. Nevertheless, a 1996 outbreak
lem can be resolved quickly.”
traced to Guatemalan raspberries and agency inspects imports. In addition
But “the FDA has a tendency to a 1997 rash of cases involving Mexi- to inspectors at U.S. ports of entry,
shoot first and ask questions later,” can strawberries illustrated the grow- the FDA has deployed 38 personnel
argues Kennedy, of the the Farm-to- ing role that imports play in the U.S. to offices in Beijing, Guangzhou and
Shanghai, China; New Delhi and MumConsumer Legal Defense Fund. “For a food supply.
big firm, recalling product is written
The contaminated produce in those bai, India; Brussels, London, and Parma,
off as a cost of doing business, but episodes came from nearby countries. Italy; San Jose, Costa Rica; and Mexico
with small firms, just one recall can The 2007 emergency involving pet food City. However, the volume of imports
put them out of business. Giving the deliberately tainted with melamine — far outstrips the agency’s capacity. FDA
FDA this recall power poses risk to a coal-derived industrial chemical — inspectors physically examine only
about 1 percent of all food imports,
firms who might, in instances where centered on China. 17
Dec. 17, 2010
Common Food-borne Diseases
The most commonly recognized food-borne infections are caused by
the bacterial pathogens campylobacter, salmonella and E.coli
O157:H7, and by a group of viruses called calicivirus, also known
as the Norovirus.
Campylobacter causes fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps.
It is the most commonly identified bacterial cause of diarrheal
illness worldwide. These bacteria live in the intestines of healthy
birds, and most raw poultry meat has campylobacter on it. Eating
undercooked chicken or other food that has been contaminated
with juices dripping from raw chicken is the most frequent
source of this infection.
Salmonella is also a bacterium that is widespread in the intes-
tines of birds, reptiles and mammals and spreads to humans via a
variety of different foods of animal origin. The illness it causes,
salmonellosis, typically includes fever, diarrhea and abdominal
cramps. In persons with poor underlying health or weakened
immune systems, it can invade the bloodstream and cause
E.coli O157:H7 is a bacterial pathogen found in cattle and
other similar animals. Human illness typically follows consumption of food or water that has been contaminated with microscopic amounts of cow feces. The illness it causes is often severe
and bloody diarrhea and painful abdominal cramps, without
much fever. In 3-5 percent of cases, a severe complication called
hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) can occur weeks after the
initial symptoms, with temporary anemia, profuse bleeding and
Calicivirus, or Norovirus is an extremely common cause of
food-borne illness, though it is rarely diagnosed because the
laboratory test is not widely available. It causes an acute gastrointestinal illness, usually with more vomiting than diarrhea, that
resolves within two days. Unlike many food-borne pathogens that
have animal reservoirs, it is believed that Noroviruses spread
primarily from one infected person to another.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/
the Government Accountability Office
(GAO) reports. (See graph, p. 1050.) 20
The food-safety legislation would
hold imported producers to the same
stepped-up safety requirements that
domestic producers would have to meet.
Proponents call that change essential.
“We are importing more and more
food, much of it coming from countries that have less than what we consider to be sanitary practices,” says
Michael Doyle, a microbiologist who
is director of the University of Georgia’s Center for Food Safety and has
served on FDA and Department of Agriculture advisory panels. “It’s going to
be an even greater challenge to ensure
the safety of those foods unless we do
something — the sooner the better.”
Doyle, whose center serves food
companies as a research facility, adds,
“Not to say we don’t have problems
here in the United States in terms of
food processing and production, but
percentage-wise what we see coming
in from other countries, when you see
how they process food, there’s likely
to be greater problems.”
Other experts argue that emphasizing problematic imports can distract
attention from problems in the domestic food industry. Marler, the foodborne illness lawyer, noting that he’s
worked on every major outbreak since
1993, says, “If there had been a trend
of imported products poisoning us, I
would have noticed.” Contamination
in imports “is not 10 percent of the
outbreaks” overall, Marler estimates.
To be sure, risks do increase as imports rise, Marler says. But he adds,
“People freaking out about imported
food is a little bit nationalistic, and a
defense of U.S. corporate interests.”
Faber, of the Grocery Manufacturers of America, acknowledges that imports can be problematic. “Many countries simply lack the regulatory tools
we take for granted in the United
States and the European Union,” he
says. “It’s easier to set and enforce
standards for spinach grown in the
United States than to audit food coming from 175 other countries.”
However, Faber argues that imports
overall are more to be welcomed than
feared. “Importing food from around
the globe provides us with a wider
variety of food at less cost,” he says.
And he adds that U.S. food exports
have surpassed imports for the third
year in a row (the most recent figures
available show that the United States
exported $48.5 billion in processed
foods in 2008 and imported $40 billion). 21 “Globalization in food supply
has also provided jobs in the United
States,” he says.
Kennedy of the small-farmers organization, though, argues that the
growth in imports “is not a positive
trend.” He believes that imports are
more dangerous to consumers’ safety
but acknowledges he has no data to
support that conclusion. But he does
point to what he calls a dangerous
environmental trend set in motion by
globalization. “Look how far food is
traveling to get to market,” he says,
citing the effects of the energy consumption involved in transporting and
storing the imports.
Are genetic modification, livestock
hormones and plastic packaging
as dangerous as salmonella?
As politicians and advocates fight
over whether to ratchet up FDA authority, conflicts are stirring over an
entirely different set of food-safety
issues. Questions about the health effects of genetically modified food
and the use of medication and hormones on livestock and similar
processes have surfaced in regulatory and political settings.
Already, most Americans are eating
genetically modified foods. These take
the form of ingredients in a large number of processed foods. Soy lecithin,
corn syrup, cotton seed (a protein
source in candy) and other grain derivatives have been genetically modified, mostly to resist insects. Modifications occur when scientists remove
a specific DNA strand from one organism and implant it in another,
where it does the same work that it
did in its original site — building a
plant’s resistance to a certain insect,
for instance. 22
Scientists learned in the 1970s how
to transfer genes. By 2002, genetically
modified (GM) crops represented 26 percent of corn, 68 percent of soybeans
and 69 percent of cotton planted in
the United States. Only four years later,
61 percent of corn, 89 percent of soybeans and 83 percent of cotton had
been genetically modified. 23
The FDA approved those modified
crops for human consumption. More
recently, the agency has approved the
sale of salmon genetically modified to
grow faster. Nevertheless, public skepticism about the safety of such food
is rising. One reason is growing awareness that the European Union (EU)
has banned the sale of GM foods.
Conflicts also are intensifying concerning the use of certain chemicals in
livestock-raising and food packaging.
Most recently, Sen. Dianne Feinstein,
D-Calif., gave up an attempt to attach
an amendment to the Senate foodsafety bill that would ban Bisphenol
A (BPA) from baby bottles and sippy
cups. The industrial chemical also is
used as a hardening agent in plastic
food and beverage containers, and in
the linings of some food cans. 24
Feinstein bowed to what she called
overwhelming industry pressure. Her
amendment reflected concerns that
have circulated for years among health
advocates who cite studies linking BPA
to cancer and growth and reproductive disorders. Some cite evidence that
BPA and other chemicals used in food
are “endocrine disrupters” that can bring
on early puberty. 25
The FDA is assessing BPA’s effects
but so far has rejected calls to ban
the chemical. Food manufacturers
cited that stance in opposing Feinstein’s proposed amendment. “We trust
the FDA to complete a safety assessment for BPA, and we don’t think the
Senate should short-circuit and undermine the FDA,” Faber of the Grocery
Manufacturers Association told The
Washington Post. 26
But some consumer advocates argue
against allowing industry to use products and processes while their overall
effects are under study. “There is a
consumer right to know what we are
eating,” says Hitchcock of U.S. PIRG.
“There are questions of what you are
mixing with what.” She cites the possibility that genetic modification of a
fruit or vegetable, such as peanuts,
could introduce genes to which many
people are allergic.
“Industry will certainly tell you that
the issue requires more study,” Hitchcock says, adding that studies should
be done in laboratories, not in the
kitchens of unknowing consumers. “If
something requires more study, it requires more study before we expose
human beings to it, before we unleash
the whirlwind. Don’t study on me,
don’t study on my kids.”
Doyle of the University of Georgia
argues that the FDA screens genetically modified foods for allergens and
other new elements before approving
them for sale. He acknowledges that
the rigor of other countries’ evaluation
processes isn’t certain. “We don’t know
what goes on in China and some of
these other countries,” he says. “That
I could see as a potential concern.”
On another issue of heated debate
— the use of a synthetic version of a
naturally occurring growth hormone to
stimulate milk production in dairy cows
— Doyle argues that safety is assured.
“The data I’ve seen is that the levels
in animals are so low you don’t even
see any difference from normal levels,”
he says. “It is not thought to be a safety issue.” The substance in question is
recombinant bovine somatropin (BST).
As in the case of genetically modified foods, BST is banned in the EU.
And in the United States, consumer distrust of human-introduced substances
in milk — whatever the quantities —
is significant enough that some dairyproduct makers — notably Ben & Jerry’s
Ice Cream — shun BST and announce
its absence on their labels. 27
But some argue that those who decry
BST, as well as food re-engineering in
general, are rejecting valid scientific arguments for human intervention in the
food chain. “Recombinant genetics often
can result in an end product that is
Dec. 17, 2010
much safer than what obtains from
conventional breeding,” says Conko of
the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He
cites pre-1970s cross-breeding of potato and tomato species with wild varieties, some of which had concentrations of the toxin produced by the
nightshade plant that were higher than
found in food for human consumption.
Nightshade is a relative of the tomato
As for BPA and other plastics, Conko
(who is not a scientist but co-wrote
a book on bio-engineering with a
physician/molecular biologist) argues
that the quantities of chemical products that migrate into bodies are tiny
— far smaller than quantities of naturally occurring endocrine disrupters.
“We humans are exposed to orders of
magnitude greater levels of hormonally active substances — endocrine
mimickers that occur naturally in foods,
such as anything with soybeans in it,”
he says. “The only retort critics can
come up with is that if they occur
naturally in food plants, our bodies have
evolved to be immune. But there’s no
scientific basis to that claim.”
Outrage and Regulation
arly American food consumers were
taking their lives in their hands. In
1859, a group of civic activists who
had gathered in Boston began investigating the ingredients of some commonly purchased prepared foods. Historian Stephen Mihm of the University
of Georgia recounts that their unappetizing finds included: arsenic in candy;
extract of “nux vomica” — which contains the deadly poison strychnine —
in beer; copper sulfate in pickles; lead
traces in custard powder; and chalk
and sheep’s brain in milk. 28
In an America on the verge of civil
war, the would-be reformers failed in
their mission to promote safety standards
in the fledgling food-processing industry.
Outrage by importers of American foods
in the final decades of the 19th century
made a much bigger impression on food
producers and politicians.
European buyers of what was labeled as American butter found it to
be a concoction of beef fat, cattle
stomach and the udders of cows, hogs
and ewes. By the mid-1880s, after importers realized what they’d been buying, sales fell, not surprisingly.
Meat exports to Europe also ran
afoul of importers’ vigilance. In 1879,
Germany charged that the United
States was allowing meatpackers to
export pork infected with cholera, as
well as worms that spread trichinosis.
A boycott of U.S. pork ensued. Another export scandal arose over contaminated beef.
During the same period, Peter Collier, chief chemist of the U.S. Agriculture Department, was investigating adulterants in foods, a project that led him
in 1880 to propose the first food and
drug regulation bill. The measure was
defeated. About 100 other bills to impose federal regulation on food (and
drug) production also failed.
It took a muckracking journalist to
decisively alter the political climate in
favor of government supervision of
food production. Upton Sinclair’s bestselling The Jungle, a 1905 exposé in
the form of a novel, shocked the nation with its gruesomely detailed accounts of Chicago slaughterhouses.
Other journalists had been mining the
same theme, but Sinclair produced such
a compelling narrative that it seized
the nation’s attention.
“The workers fell into the vats; and
when they were fished out,” Sinclair
wrote about the sausage-making and
meat-grinding process, “there was never
enough of them to be worth exhibiting — sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones
of them had gone out to the world
as Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard!” State inspectors on the premises, Sinclair wrote,
didn’t do much inspecting. 29
Having written the book as a call
to arms, Sinclair took full advantage
of the sensation it created by calling
for a law that would assign full-time
federal inspectors to all slaughterhouses.
In 1906, Congress acted on that demand, passing the Meat Inspection Act.
The Pure Food and Drug Act, passed
at the same time, set up a regulatory
system for most other foods. The separate spheres for meats and non-meats
persist to this day.
At the time the law was enacted,
both sets of inspectors worked for the
Agriculture Department — the meat
inspectors for the agency’s Bureau of
Animal Industry, and the non-meat inspectors for the Bureau of Chemistry.
In 1931, Congress created the FDA
Meat inspectors were made responsible for detecting animals or carcasses that were “filthy, decomposed
or putrid.” But, as Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, writes,
those criteria exclude inspectors from
searching for microorganisms that could
endanger consumers. “They could not
possibly ‘see’ bacteria and infections that
did not make the animal sick.” 30
A System Transformed
hen Congress established foodsafety regulatory systems, most of
the food that most Americans ate came
from their own or neighboring states. 31
The industrialized, globalized system
of today took its present shape in the
final decades of the 20th century. That
transformation allowed a change in eating habits. Americans began consuming more fruits and vegetables, and far
less red meat, largely because doctors
and dietitians were urging consumers
to adopt “heart-healthy” eating habits.
Continued on p. 1048
Exposure of scandalous foodsafety conditions leads to federal regulations.
Journalist Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle,
a novelized investigation of Chicago
slaughterhouses, shocks the nation.
Passage of Meat Inspection Act and
Pure Food and Drug Act creates
parallel food regulatory systems for
meats and all other foods.
Congress creates separate Food and
Drug agency, later transferring it
from Agriculture Department to
forerunner of Health and Human
Americans change their eating
habits and diets, scientific advances enable new forms of
human intervention in food
cultivation and a wave of widespread food-borne illness begins.
Scientists transfer specific genes from
one organism to another, leading to
development of crops that resist
pests, and other innovations.
Americans spend 34 percent of
their food dollars on food prepared
outside the home — a practice that
would later become far more
FDA orders limits on use of antibiotics in cattle feed, based on
evidence the practice increases
bacterial resistance to infectionfighting medication in humans. . . .
Industry-backed Farm Belt lawmakers persuade FDA to cancel
Hepatitis A outbreak kills three and
sickens more than 550 others who
ate contaminated scallions at a
Pittsburgh-area Chi-Chi’s restaurant.
sold at Western Jack in the Box
fast-food outlets kill four and sicken
Before source is found of an E.
coli outbreak that kills three and
sickens at least 200 others, FDA
warns consumers nationwide not
to eat fresh spinach sold in bags.
Consumption of fresh fruit is up
by 24 pounds per capita, and of
fresh vegetables by 31 pounds.
An outbreak of hepatitis A hits hundreds of public school students and
teachers in three states who had
consumed Mexican strawberries.
Listeria contamination in Ball Park
brand hot dogs sets off outbreak
that spreads across 22 states and
kills 21 people.
steps up use of genetically
modified crops; widespread
outbreaks of illness from
pathogens continue, prompting
increased congressional interest; industry and consumer advocates team up on a legislative proposal for new
Genetically modified soybeans account for 68 percent of U.S. soy
crop and genetically modified corn
26 percent of corn crop. . . . United States suspends importation of
Mexican cantaloupes following a
salmonella outbreak that kills two
and sickens dozens.
Chinese pet food tainted with an
industrial chemical added by unscrupulous manufacturer kills as
many as 4,000 dogs and cats in
the United States.
U.S. food imports from China triple
from 2001 to $5.8 billion a year. . . .
Americans spend 49 percent of their
food money on meals prepared outside the home. . . . FDA approves
sale of meat and milk from cloned
animals, though the products do not
immediately go on sale.
Salmonella-tainted peanuts in snack
foods found to have killed nine
people since 2008; investigations
show numerous health violations at
Georgia plant where the nuts were
processed. . . . House passes comprehensive food-safety legislation that
would give FDA mandatory recall
power over non-meat foods.
Salmonella-contaminated eggs that
sicken an estimated 1,600 people are
traced to two Iowa farms where
FDA inspectors find numerous health
violations. . . . Senate passes foodsafety legislation similar to House
version. . . . Technical hitch in Senate version makes new vote necessary but that possibility hangs in balance as Congress nears adjournment.
Dec. 17, 2010
Contaminated Food’s Toll: Sickness, Agony and Maybe Death
“A lot of survivors are faced with lifelong illness and other consequences.”
lexander Thomas Donley was 6 years old when he ate
a hamburger made from ground meat contaminated
with E.coli from cattle. He died after a four-day agony
that doctors were helpless to stop.
“Alex’s last words to me were, ‘Don’t worry Mommy,’ ” Nancy
Donley wrote in a tribute to her only child. “His last act before
slipping into a coma was to mouth a kiss to his father.” 1
Alexander’s shattered parents, recalling their son’s concern
for others, asked that his organs be donated, only to learn
that the bacteria had essentially destroyed his body’s internal
systems. “They had liquefied entire portions of his brain,”
A real estate agent by profession, Donley became a foodsafety activist, co-founding Safe Tables Our Priority, which played
a key role in the establishment of stricter meat-inspection regulations in 1996. The rules, adopted by the Clinton administration, require a Hazard Analysis and Critical Point (HACCP) system at all meat-processing sites. 2
But the regulations don’t confer recall authority for meat.
And E.coli contamination of ground beef continues to loom
as a major problem. Proposed legislation now before Congress would grant recall authority to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for non-meat foods. The legislation would
also require HACCP monitoring at all non-meat farms and
food-processing facilities — in effect, imposing by law a system that was established by regulation for meat.
“It just makes sense for regulatory agencies to have recall
Continued from p. 1046
By 1995, the Institute of Medicine
reported that Americans ate, per capita, about 31 pounds more vegetables,
and 24 pounds more fresh fruit, than
they had in 1970. During the same
1970-1995 period, consumption of chicken per capita nearly doubled from 27
to 50 pounds, while beef consumption
per capita dropped from 79 to 64 pounds.
One result was that contaminated chickens, in which campylobacter and salmonella pose a constant threat, grew
into a bigger potential threat than infected beef, which is susceptible to salmonella and E.coli contamination.
Meanwhile, Americans were doing less
and less cooking. As women entered the
non-home workplace in massive num-
authority,” Donley says in an interview. “The public is absolutely
stunned any time that they learn the agencies don’t have it.”
The consequences of food-borne illness remain largely unknown, Donley says. The public record bears out her observation, even when victims don’t suffer Alexander’s fate.
Stephanie Smith, a young dance instructor in Cold Spring,
Minn., ate a contaminated hamburger at a family meal in 2007.
She is now partially paralyzed from the waist down and suffering cognitive impairment. Cargill Meat Solutions Corp., which
produced the burger, settled a lawsuit for an undisclosed amount
that will, her lawyer and the company said in a joint statement, “provide for Ms. Smith’s care throughout her life.” The
meat company is a unit of Cargill Inc., a Minnesota-based
agribusiness and food multinational that is the largest privately
owned American corporation. 3
Her future in dance is, of course, at best a work in progress.
“She’s still wheelchair-bound,” attorney William Marler told The
Associated Press in May. “She’s making progress. She has been
able to walk with braces and a walker. She’s continuing to
work very, very hard at her rehabilitation for both her cognitive issues and her physical issues.” 4
Carol Lobato, a 77-year-old grandmother from Littleton, Colo.,
told a congressional hearing in September about her experiences last July after she tasted a rattlesnake-cake appetizer made
with insufficiently cooked egg at a Morrison, Colo., restaurant
that specializes in wild game. The egg was later traced to two
Iowa farming operations — Wright County Egg and Hillandale
bers, households came to depend on
restaurant take-out fare for much of what
they consumed. In 1970, according to
the Institute of Medicine, 34 percent of
Americans’ food purchases were for meals
prepared elsewhere. By 1996, that had
climbed to 46 percent, and by 2008 to
about 49 percent, worth $565 billion.
At the same time, the growing American appetite for fruits and vegetables,
and for foods and ingredients from other
countries, propelled a major expansion
in food imports. In 1999-2009, vegetable
imports increased from 4.6 million to
7.2 million metric tons, and fruit imports
increased from 8.2 million to 9.9 million metric tons, while fish and shellfish imports went from 1.7 million to
2.3 million metric tons. 32
As diet and eating habits changed,
food production became ever more industrialized, down to the farm level.
From 1994 to 1995 alone, for instance,
the number of hog farms nationwide
fell from 207,980 to 182,700, but the
number of hogs — about 58.2 million
head — didn’t change, and pork production increased. “Technological advances in disease control, genetics and
management practices in the feeding
and raising of hogs,” was the reason,
an economist for the Federal Reserve
Bank of Chicago reported in 1996. “Hog
farmers today can produce the same
amount of pork as in 1980 — the peak
year for per capita pork production —
using less labor, less feed, and an inventory of 20% fewer hogs.” 33
The New York Times/Ben Garvin
if the new national health care law’s
Farms — later found to have been
prohibition against denying insurance
highly contaminated by salmonella.
coverage for preexisting conditions is
By the next day, she had been rushed
to the emergency room with chills,
“I don’t think we’ll ever get to pervomiting and diarrhea. Her symptoms
fection — a totally risk-free food supply,”
worsened upon release, and she was
Donley says. Given that reality, she says,
hospitalized for another five days.
consumers should support rigorous regLobato’s husband and grandson had
ulation and take their own food-handling
also tasted the dish but suffered only
precautions seriously. “Most people think
mild illness. Unlike them, she takes
it’s just that someone has diarrhea and
medication for rheumatoid arthritis,
Stephanie Smith, a young dance
instructor from Minnesota, was partially
then it’s done. But when things go wrong,
which weakened her immune system’s
paralyzed after eating a contaminated
they can go horribly wrong.”
defenses against bacterial infection.
hamburger produced by Cargill Meat
“I have lost my stamina,” Loba— Peter Katel
to told the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee in Sep1 “Alexander Thomas,” Nancy Donley, 1999, www.safetables.org/victim_wall/
tember. “I often experience indigestion, and it is difficult for
me to enjoy certain foods. I feel very tired and require rest 2 Rick Weiss, “President Orders Overhaul of Meat Safety Inspections,” The
during the day. . . . My doctors told me that I almost cer- Washington Post, July 7, 1996, p. A1.
3 “Stephanie Smith and Cargill Meat Solutions Settle E. coli Lawsuit,” press
tainly would have died without aggressive intervention.” 5
Overall, Lobato testified, “the salmonella infection is not over release, May 12, 2010, www.marlerblog.com/legal-cases/stephanie-smith-andcargill-meat-solutions-settle-e-coli-lawsuit; “Cargill Inc. Company Profile,” Yahoo!
Finance, undated, http://biz.yahoo.com/ic/40/40079.html.
That uncertain outcome would surprise many members of 4 Quoted in Steve Karnowski, “Stephanie Smith, Cargill Settle E. Coli Case
the public, Donley says. “A lot of survivors are faced with life- After New York Times Story About Tainted Meat,” The Associated Press,
May 12, 2010, www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/12/stephanie-smith-cargilllong illness and other consequences — arthritis, high blood s_n_574290.html.
pressure, bad eyesight, reproductive problems,” she says. And 5 “House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investimany of them have become uninsurable — which could change gations Holds Hearing on the 2010 Egg Recall and Salmonella Outbreak,”
CQ Congressional Transcripts, Sept. 22, 2010.
Another effect of stepped-up industrialization was that the effects of a
single contamination episode could
spread wide and fast. Experts point to
a 1994 event in which thousands of
people nationwide suffered salmonella
poisoning after eating ice cream produced by Schwan’s Sales Enterprises,
a Marshall, Minn., company. In Minnesota
alone, the ice cream made an estimated 32,000 people ill. The vast majority didn’t suffer symptoms severe
enough to warrant medical attention.
But the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention reported at least 645
serious cases in 28 states. 34
Investigation traced the salmonella
to tanker trucks that delivered ice cream
mix to the company’s production
plant. The trucks previously had carried raw, unpasteurized liquid eggs.
These are easily contaminated by salmonella, because the bacteria are found
in chickens’ intestinal tracts and often
migrate to shells. And if the unbroken
eggs aren’t sanitized, the bacteria easily migrate to whites and yolks once
the shells are shattered. 35
Genes and Drugs
et another major change overtook the food industry starting in
the 1970s. Consumer and small-farmer
advocates began sounding alarms over
biological engineering, especially on
animals being fed for slaughter. 36
Cattle-raisers had been using one
of the techniques at issue since the
1950s, when they started feeding
their livestock low doses of antibiotics. Curing or preventing disease
wasn’t the point. The drugs were
used to stimulate growth, though
scientists didn’t understand why
they had that effect.
But scientists did recognize that bacteria routinely exposed to antibiotics
would develop immunities to the drugs,
thereby defeating their purpose. As the
development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria began growing into a global danger to humans during the final decades
of the 20th century, the use of bacteria
in animals bred for slaughter came
Dec. 17, 2010
In 1977, data showing that cattleborne bacteria were building antibiotic
immunities persuaded the FDA to propose limiting antibiotics in animal
feed. But Congress intervened, under
pressure from Farm Belt lawmakers as
well as pharmaceutical and livestock
Nevertheless, the issue didn’t go away.
In 2004, the General Accounting Office,
now the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress’ investigative agency,
reported that data from a variety of scientific sources showed that bacteria resistant to certain antibiotics were appearing in humans who had eaten meat
from animals fed the relevant antibiotics.
“Strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria infecting humans were indistinguishable
from those found in animals, and the
researchers concluded that the animals
were the source of the infection,” the
GAO said. 37
The GAO researchers acknowledged
that the magnitude of the problems
caused by drug-resistant bacteria transference was uncertain. And one study
carried out in 1997-2001 concluded
that no clear trend could be detected
of heightened antibiotic resistance of
salmonella bacteria. Another study said
that banning a specific antibiotic (virginiamycin) in animals in the United
States would only lower the number
of human deaths by less than one in
a five-year span.
However, studies that found only
minimal health risks from antibiotic use
were greatly outnumbered by studies
concluding that antibiotics in animals
pose a significant risk to humans.
The use of antibiotics is a relatively straightforward issue — if only by
contrast with the more complicated
question of genetic modifications and
cloning in food crops and animals.
As the new century opened, scientists at Texas A&M, the University
of Connecticut and the University of
Tennessee produced cloned cows. The
FDA began studying whether meat
and milk from cloned farm animals
Small Fraction of Food
Imports Are Inspected
Only 1.5 percent of the more
than 9.5 million non-meat food
imports into the United States
were physically examined by
Food and Drug Administration
inspectors in 2009.
Import physical exams
Percent of shipments
Source: “Appendix II: FDA Field
Examinations,” Fiscal Years 2006
through 2009, Government Accountability Office
was safe to eat. In 2003, the agency
tentatively approved that meat for
human consumption. But an advisory
panel formed by the agency led the
FDA to withdraw that decision on the
grounds that scientific evidence of
safety was lacking. 38
Then, after issuing another tentative approval in 2006, the FDA decided in early 2008 to allow the sale
for human consumption of meat and
milk from cloned cows, pigs, goats
and their offspring. “Food from cattle,
swine, and goat clones is as safe to
eat as that from their more conventionally bred counterparts,” the FDA
said in a formal risk assessment. 39
Food from cloned animals wasn’t
expected to go on sale for some time,
but the decision prompted angry reactions from consumer advocates. “At
a time when we have a readily ac-
knowledged crisis in our food-safety
system, the FDA is spending its resources and energy and political capital
on releasing a safety assessment for
something that no one but a handful
of companies wants,” Joseph Mendelson,
legal director of the Center for Food
Safety, an advocacy organization, told
The Washington Post. 40
utbreaks of serious food-borne illness have cropped up repeatedly over the past 20 years, though most
have attracted little attention. For example, the number of outbreaks with
known origins ranged from 239 in 1990
to 258 in 1997 but the number of outbreaks whose origins weren’t determined
was higher for every year in that range,
according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 41
In 2007, according to the CDC’s
most recent analysis, 1,097 outbreaks
were reported, with cause established
in 497 cases. The outbreaks killed a
total of 18 people — five of whom
died from salmonella contamination,
three from listeria, two from E.coli,
one from botulism, two from norovirus,
one from mushroom toxin and four
from unknown contaminants. 42
The first widespread deadly outbreak
of food-borne illness to attract national
attention occurred in 1993. Hamburgers
sold by the Jack in the Box fast-food
chain in the states of Washington, Idaho,
California and Nevada were contaminated with E.coli. Four children died
and nearly 1,000 people were sickened,
many requiring hospitalization. The Marler Clark law firm in Seattle, which represented the biggest group of victims,
reported that the restaurant firm paid
more than $50 million in settlements. 43
The outbreak led the Clinton administration to adopt new meat-inspection
regulations, which required a HACCP
plan in each processing plant. But the
regulations were subject to interpretation
Getty Image/Christian Peterson
and did not entirely
mination of packaged
sliced turkey killed
eight people and sickThree years later,
ened at least 54. 49
In 2003, Pennsylvania
an outbreak of inand CDC investigators
traced the single biggest
traced to cyclospora
outbreak of hepatitis A in
U.S. history to a Chi-Chi’s
Guatemalan raspberrestaurant in a Pittsburgh
ries hit about 850
suburb. Three people died
people in more than
and 565 were registered
20 states, as well as
as ill after eating contain Ontario, Canada.
minated scallions. 50
Later in 1996, more
Fresh, raw foods
than 60 people in
were also the source of
Colorado and elsetwo later, major contamwhere became ill and
ination episodes. In 2004,
one child died from
Four children died and nearly 1,000 people were sickened after eating
Paramount Farms of CalE.coli in unpasteurhamburgers tainted with E.coli bacteria that were sold by the Jack in
ifornia recalled more than
ized apple juice. 44
the Box fast-food chain in four Western states. A law firm representing
In 1997, an out13 million pounds of
victims said the chain paid more than $50 million in settlements.
break of hepatitis A
raw almonds, found to
that sickened hunhave been the source of
dreds of public school students and teach- monella contamination of Mexican can- an outbreak of salmonella that hit at
ers in Michigan, Maine and Wisconsin taloupes. In 2002, after finding sources least 25 people in six Midwestern and
was traced to a 1.7 million-pound ship- of bacterial infection at many cantaloupe Western states.
And in 2006, raw spinach grown at
ment of Mexican strawberries. The pres- growing and packing operations in Mexident of a San Diego food broker plead- ico, the FDA suspended U.S. importa- Earthbound Farm in California’s San
Joaquin Valley and accidentally contaed guilty to fraud for not disclosing tion of the fruit from Mexico.
E.coli contamination in ground beef minated with cow droppings was idenwhere the strawberries had been grown,
in an attempt to evade a requirement prompted major recalls in 2007. Topps tified as the source of an E.coli contathat school lunch food be grown and Meat of New Jersey recalled 21.7 mil- mination in which three people, including
lion pounds of frozen hamburger after a 2-year-old boy, died. At least 200 othprocessed in the United States. 45
U.S.-produced meat was the source a positive test for the pathogen. And ers fell seriously ill. While investigators
of the deadliest outbreak of the 1990s. Cargill Meat Solutions pulled 845,000 hunted for the pathogen’s source, the
In late 1998 and early 1999, listeria in pounds of ground beef after an out- FDA warned consumers not to eat fresh
Ball Park brand hot dogs killed 21 break in which more than a dozen spinach sold in bags. 51
people and sickened at least 100 oth- people were sickened. The following
ers. The victims were spread across year, the potential for an outbreak led
22 states. Government investigators then to the biggest beef recall in U.S. hisdiscovered that the USDA failed to tory — 143 million pounds — pulled
issue a press release announcing a re- from the market by the Westland/Hallcall of the franks after they had been mark Meat Co. of Chino, Calif. The
identified as the cause of the first four move followed release of an underdeaths. And the Bil Mar meat pro- cover video by the Humane Society of
cessing plant — which produced the the United States showing plant workhot dogs for Sara Lee Corp. — issued ers forcing sick cows — “downers” —
only a low-key recall announcement, to walk. Meat from some of them
s the post-election “lame-duck”
with no indication of the deadliness ended up in the food supply.
That same year, a deadlier outbreak
congressional session winds up,
of the contamination.
In the early 2000s, two deaths and surfaced in New York and other the fate of comprehensive food-safety
dozens of illnesses were traced to sal- Northeastern states, as listeria conta- legislation remains unclear.
Dec. 17, 2010
How to Handle a Recalled Product
The Food and Drug Administration as well as Food Safety News
regularly publish the names of recalled food products on their
www.foodsafetynews.com/sections/food-recalls/). Consumers of a
recalled product should follow the guidelines specific to each recall.
This generally entails discarding the product and contacting the
company for a refund. If the product has already been consumed, a
physician should be visited immediately.
When recalls relate to product-dating codes, it is important to note
that “best by” dates are dates recommended for best flavor or quality,
and are not purchase or safety dates. Similarly, “sell by” dates refer
to how long the product should be displayed in stores. “Use by” dates
are the last dates recommended for use of a product.
Although recalls such as those of Iowa eggs in August make
headlines, many smaller recalls largely go unnoticed by the general
public. Below are a few recent examples:
• Dec. 8, 2010 — Mojave Foods Corp. recalls packages of walnuts
because of potential exposure to salmonella.
• Dec. 6, 2010 — Bumble Bee recalls canned chicken salad to correct
“best by” date on package.
• Nov. 17, 2010 — Cheese manufacturer Del Bueno recalls several
varieties because of potential contamination by listeria bacteria.
• Nov. 4, 2010 — Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
orders recall of Baugher’s apple cider amid investigation of E.coli
• Oct. 22, 2010 — Nestlé USA recalls Raisinets, which may contain
Sources: Food and Drug Administration; Food Safety News
As recently as Nov. 30, politicians
and consumer advocates backing legislation to expand the FDA’s powers
were celebrating what seemed to be a
decisive moment in attempts to overhaul the food-safety system. “We applaud the U.S. Senate’s passage of historic bipartisan food-safety legislation,”
Erik D. Olson, director of the nonpartisan Pew Health Group food programs, said following Senate passage
of the bill on a 73-25 roll call vote. 52
The fact that 15 Republicans joined 58
Democrats seemed to signal a rare moment of cooperation between the parties,
especially on issues involving government
regulation. 53 “I don’t get it,” liberal blogger Kevin Drum of the Mother Jones magazine website wrote hours after the vote.
“Is food safety genuinely different?”
But a problem popped up that very
night. Democrats on the House Ways
and Means Committee noticed that one
section of the Senate bill lists a set of
fees. In constitutional terms, these are
taxes. And the Constitution requires all
tax measures to originate in the House.
“We expect the House to assert its
rights under the Constitution to be the
place where revenue bills begin,” a Republican House staffer told Roll Call, a
Washington political newspaper. 54
One mechanism for correcting the
problem — bringing the bill back to
the Senate to approve a fixed version
— seemed impractical. That move would
require unanimous consent of the members, and Republican Sen. Coburn, a
staunch opponent, was certain to deny
his approval. 55
By early December, a Republican
cosponsor said the bill’s immediate
prospects were dim. “I would imagine
with the hurdle they are up against, it
probably is dead for this year,” Sen.
Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., told CQ Today.
Later, congressional staffers said that
chances of passage had improved. 56
In the new Congress the bill’s
prospects would be uncertain. In the
House, the new Republican majority will
include a contingent of Tea Party members, who generally oppose government
regulation. And the mood in the Tea
Party grass roots is that the food-safety
bill represents a government attack.
“The FDA will have such sweeping
regulatory powers they will be able to
back-door their way into repressive regulations of small farmers anytime they
please,” a Roanoke, Va., Tea Party group
declared on its website, urging supporters to push their representative into
voting against the bill if it comes up
for a second vote. “Freedom affects all
of us whether we grow organic veggies . . . or collect guns. When the government seeks to violate your right to
pursue happiness. . . . they effectively
destroy the fabric of this nation.” 57
Those views are being promoted by
figures influential on the Tea Party right.
“How much money is this going to
cost? And who pays for it in the end?,”
asked Fox News TV commentator
Glenn Beck on his radio show (a nonFox production that’s distributed by
Premiere Radio Network), speaking on
Nov. 19, when the Senate bill was
being readied for passage. “It’s passed
on to the consumer. . . . You’re going
to do something that causes the price
of food to go up even faster? What,
Continued on p. 1054
Would strengthening FDA regulatory authority improve food safety?
DIRECTOR, FOOD POLICY INSTITUTE,
CONSUMER FEDERATION OF AMERICA
COMPETITIVE ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE
WRITTEN FOR CQ RESEARCHER, DECEMBER 2010
WRITTEN FOR CQ RESEARCHER, DECEMBER 2010
egislation pending before Congress would modernize the
100-year-old law that created the Food and Drug Administration, greatly empowering the FDA to improve the nation’s food safety. The most important and basic change to the
FDA’s authority would be a specific, statutory mandate to prevent food-borne illness rather than waiting to act until people
become sick and die. This is a fundamental shift for the agency,
and food experts say it is critical to improving food safety.
First, food processors will be required to identify where
contamination may occur in the food production process and
take steps to prevent it. This will help reduce the chance that
food is contaminated before it leaves the plant. Second, the
FDA will be required to implement science-based minimum
standards for the safe production of fresh fruits and vegetables.
FDA has never before issued such mandatory standards, despite
a series of nationwide outbreaks linked to leafy greens, green
onions, sprouts, peppers and other fresh produce.
Third, FDA will have greater authority to assure imported
food meets the same safety standards as domestically produced food. Americans consume an increasing amount of imported food, yet FDA inspects less than 1 percent of imported
food and has limited reach beyond the border. The new authority will allow FDA to hold importers accountable for verifying that imported food meets safety standards and to develop systems for assuring food is produced safely overseas.
These new standards will be accompanied by greater oversight of food processing facilities through increased frequency
of inspections. Previously, FDA had no mandate for inspections and only inspected food facilities on average once
every 10 years, hardly sufficient to deter bad actors.
Finally, FDA will be granted authority to develop a foodtraceability system and mandate a recall of contaminated food,
which will improve the government’s ability to respond to a
problem and reduce the time it takes to remove contaminated
food from the market. The necessity of mandatory recall authority became clear when, during the 2009 salmonella outbreak linked to peanut butter products caused 714 illnesses
and nine deaths, Westco Fruit and Nut Co. refused FDA’s request that it recall suspect peanut products.
Food contaminated with deadly pathogens is the very
essence of a market failure, as consumers cannot determine
for themselves whether food is contaminated. Providing FDA
with enhanced food-safety authority will help reduce the tens
of millions of illnesses and thousands of deaths that occur
each year as a result of food-borne illness.
onsumers would benefit from safer food, but expanding
the FDA’s authority is unlikely to help reach that goal.
Pending legislation would increase inspections, extend Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) rules to farms
and other food producers and give FDA authority to mandate recalls. These would waste taxpayer money and put huge burdens
on small and mid-sized producers, but not deliver safer food.
More frequent inspections seem appealing, as current law
only requires facilities to be inspected every 10 years. But the
new law would merely require inspections for most producers
every five years, and every three years for high-risk facilities.
But even with more frequent visits, inspectors would still be
thwarted by a practical inability to find microbial pathogens.
Inspectors can examine whether facilities appear clean and
check the producer’s records of risk-reduction efforts. But
records are only as good as the record keeper, and a facility
that looks clean can still harbor pathogens. It’s worth remembering that slaughterhouses must have a USDA inspector on
the premises every day they operate, but meat and poultry
still account for about half of all food-borne illnesses.
In theory, expanding HACCP could generate improvements.
That program currently requires meat, poultry and seafood
producers to identify points in their production streams where
pathogens or other hazards may enter the system and take
steps to make those processes safer. At the margin, it probably has resulted in modest improvements in those industries.
As envisioned, the concept lets producers tailor efforts to
their individual circumstances. As implemented by regulators,
however, HACCP sets costly, rigid and out-of-date requirements
that disincentivize firms from adopting innovative processes
that could deliver genuine safety improvements.
Finally, granting FDA the power to order recalls is a solution in search of a problem. Supporters would be hardpressed to identify a single case in which producers refused
to honor a recall request based on evidence that a product
was actually or likely to be tainted. But with public and
media pressure for authorities to “do something” any time
there is a food-borne illness outbreak, an FDA with
unchecked power could be expected to order recalls on
countless products that are perfectly safe, with negative impacts on prices and consumer choice.
Increasing FDA’s authority would waste taxpayer money on
activities unlikely to improve safety, while driving many small
and medium-sized producers out of the market and raising
the cost of the food we eat.
Dec. 17, 2010
Continued from p. 1052
are you out of your mind? No, no.
This is what Stalin did.” 58
Besides, Beck said, “Show me the
country that has a safer food supply
than us, can you, please?” 59
A rival TV-radio host, liberal Ed
Schultz, later responded on MSNBC:
“Everything goes back to Stalin with
this guy. . . . Let’s talk about the 5,000
Americans who die each year from
Legal judgments and settlements in
death and illness cases, Schultz argued,
are the real food-price inflators. “Let’s
talk about the billions of dollars American farmers and manufacturers lose in
cases of tainted eggs or spinach or
meat,” Schultz said. “You don’t think
that leads to higher prices, do you?” 60
s the FDA weighs approval to sell
genetically modified salmon, opposition is rising among environmentalists, food-safety advocates and some
politicians. Democratic Sen. Mark Begich and Republican Rep. Don Young,
both of Alaska, have introduced bills to
bar the FDA from giving final approval
to a recently developed breed of salmon
that has been genetically engineered by
a Waltham, Mass., firm, AquaBounty.
As a fallback, the lawmakers — from
a state whose coastal waters are rich
in naturally spawned salmon — are
demanding that the FDA require the
altered salmon to be labeled as genetically modified.
“Our main objective is to stop the
FDA from ever approving this science
project that will potentially harm wild
Alaska salmon, while posing human and
other environmental health risks,” Begich
said in a press release. “But, at the very
least, any type of genetically engineered
fish has to have a label. If the FDA decides this is safe for human consumption, it should be clear to the public
what’s in and not in the package.” 61
The salmon that AquaBounty developed contains a gene from the ocean
pout, a species found both in inshore
and offshore waters, and a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon. In combination, they stimulate growth to full size
in about 700 days from first feeding, versus about 850 days in unmodified salmon,
according to the company. 62
If the company gets FDA approval
to begin raising the fish, they would
be cultivated at two inland fish farms,
in Panama and Canada. Further expansion would require additional FDA
Begich and Young made their moves
amid indications from the FDA that it
would approve the AquaBounty salmon.
The agency’s veterinary medicine advisory committee gave preliminary approval in September: “The food from
AquAdvantage salmon . . . is as safe as
food from conventional Atlantic salmon,
and . . . there is a reasonable certainty of no harm from the consumption
of food from this animal.” 64
Opponents are not pointing to hard
evidence of potential harm to people
who eat modified salmon. But some
critics are raising environmental objections to the salmon proposal. Adding
to the world salmon stock would increase demand for the wild fish on
which salmon feed, Martin Smith, a
professor of environmental economics
at Duke University, told Canada’s CBC
News in early December. “If you increase demand . . . you can exacerbate problems with overfishing in some
places,” he said. 65
Present FDA rules wouldn’t require
the modified salmon to be labeled as
such. But the agency said it would
consider requests to require that consumers be informed. 66
“One side of the argument says let’s
give consumers sovereignty over their
food choices,” said William K. Hallman,
director of the Food Policy Institute at
Rutgers University in New Jersey. “The
other says we’ve done the science on
this and it’s no different, so if we put
a label on it, we’re implying it’s somehow risky and that’s like governmentimposed false advertising.” 67
Indeed, the Biotechnology Industry
Association said in a statement that because AquAdvantage salmon “are nutritionally and biologically the same as any
other Atlantic salmon . . . there is no reason for it to be labeled as different.” 68
But some food-safety specialists
argue that shoppers are entitled to be
informed. “The public wants to know,”
said food expert Nestle at New York
University, “and the public has a right
to know.” 69
Down to the Wire
or many food-safety experts and
advocates, the near future depends
on events in the closing weeks of
2010. Some supporters of the foodsafety bill pending in Congress argue
that if it doesn’t get enacted this year,
its prospects are poor.
“2010 is almost over, and realistically 2011 is shaping up to be the
most politically contentious year since
Obama took office,” food-safety lawyer
Marler wrote on the liberal Huffington Post website. “For any legislation,
that means more roadblocks and more
politics. Translation, ‘Anyone who believes this bill will pass if it is introduced during the next congressional
session is in ‘La-La Land.’ ” 70
For Marler and others, the legislation would mark a fundamental
change in food-safety oversight. “It
would put the FDA in a proactive
stance,” said Ami V. Gadhia, policy
counsel at Consumers Union, a longtime New York-based advocacy and
research organization. Like others on
her side of the debate, Gadhia would
eventually like to see creation of one
agency to regulate the safety of all
food, ending the division between FDA
and USDA jurisdiction. “I see that as
something that is still off in the distance
as a policy goal,” she adds.
Regulation opponents are hoping
that the 2010 food-safety legislation
dies, a development that they argue
would be important in setting the
stage for a growth in local agriculture.
In their view, small farms would thrive
if the proposed new regulatory system isn’t put in place. “The trend is
toward local food,” says Kennedy of
the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense
Fund. “Unless there’s some type of
government overregulation or if an
agency like FDA expands on its power,
that trend isn’t going to change.”
If that trend were to continue,
Kennedy argues, it would generate
enormous economic and demographic changes. “Government policies over
the years have hurt the small farmer
and led to at least some of the population migration into the cities,” he
says. “Strengthening local agriculture
would remake the country.”
Kennedy and other local-food advocates tend to oppose genetic modification and other forms of food bioengineering, putting them in the same
camp with some advocates of steppedup government regulation.
Bioengineering advocates are unsure if public opinion will shift in
their favor. “Ten years ago I thought
for sure, after 10 years of positive examples with biotech crops, that public reluctance would ease,” says
Conko of the Competitive Enterprise
Institute. “But the general public is
not even aware of biotech. And on
the level of politically active advocates, it is a big enough issue, and I
think one that is resistant to rational
Nevertheless, “There are now about
25 countries growing biotech crops;
10 years ago it was about 10 countries,” Conko says. “These tend to be
lesser-developed countries primarily
growing cotton. As they’re adopting
these plants, they’re seeing firsthand
that they’re not the agents of calamity
that the “green” activists have been
saying.” Still, Conko concedes, “Consumer acceptance is a big hurdle.”
Others in the food-policy world remain focused on food-borne illness and
how to prevent it. Doyle of the University of Georgia’s Center for Food
Safety notes that information-gathering
on outbreaks and their causes has improved as reflected in the latest foodborne disease estimates. CDC uses state
and local health departments as “sentinels” to track outbreaks as soon they
surface. “The surveillance system has
gotten incredibly better over the last
three to five years,” Doyle says, “and it’s
going to get even better, because the
CDC has invested in five new sentinel
sites that will be using even better surveillance and investigation protocols.”
Though estimates of disease incidence have gone down, Doyle says,
“that’s not necessarily because we’re
getting better, but because we’ll have
greater precision for estimating.”
“Inspectional Observations,” U.S. Food and
Drug Administration, Aug. 12-Aug. 30, 2010,
3 “House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Holds
Hearing on the 2010 Egg Recall and Salmonella Outbreak,” CQ Congressional Transcripts,
Sept. 22, 2010.
4 Quoted in Philip Brasher, “Egg recall: DeCoster
defense says it’s complicated,” Des Moines
Register, Sept. 23, 2010.
5 Michael Moss, “Peanut Case Shows Holes
in Food Safety Net,” The New York Times,
Feb. 9, 2009, p. A1.
6 “House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee,” op. cit.
8 The three are E.coli 0157:H7; listeria monocytogenes, cyclospora cayetanensis; and
campylobacter jejuni. Elaine Scallan, et al.,
“Foodborne Illness Acquired in the United
States — Major Pathogens,” and Elaine Scallan,
et al., “Foodborne Illness Acquired in the United States — Unspecified Agents,” Emerging Infectious Diseases, January 2011, cdc.gov/eid.
9 “Dr. Coburn Says Food Safety Bill Won’t
Make Food Safer,” press release, Sen. Tom
Coburn Web site, Nov. 30, 2010, http://coburn.
10 Ibid., pp. 8-10; Lisa Shames, “FDA Could
Strengthen Oversight of Imported Food by
Improving Enforcement and Seeking Additional Authorities,” Government Accountability Office, May 6, 2010, p. 13, www.gao.gov/
11 Marla Cone, “Stalking a killer in our
greens,” Los Angeles Times, Aug. 13, 2007, p.
A1; David Brown, “E. Coli Blamed on Spinach,”
The Washington Post, Sept. 15, 2006, p. A4;
David Barboza and Alexei Barrionuevo, “Filler
in Animal Feed is Open Secret in China,” The
New York Times, April 30, 2007, www.nytimes.
html; Fred Gale and Jean C. Buzby, “Imports
From China and Food Safety Issues,” Economic
Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture,
July, 2009, www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/EI
B52/EIB52_ReportSummary.pdf. For background,
see Peter Katel, “Consumer Safety,” CQ Researcher,
Oct. 12, 2007, pp. 841-864.
12 Clark Kauffman, “Supreme Court gives DeCoster partial win,” Des Moines Register, April 26,
2001, p. B6.
14 Adjoa Adolfo and Melissa Attias, “S 510,”
CQ bill Analysis, Nov. 25, 2009; Lyndsey Layton,
“Food safety bill,” (sidebar), The Washington Post,
Nov. 1, 2010, p. A11.
16 “S. 510,” U.S. Senate, March 3, 2009, p. 74,
17 David Barboza and Alexei Barrionuevo,
18 Abigail Goldman and Don Lee, “Reported
pet deaths at 8,500, FDA says,” Los Angeles
Times, May 4, 2007, p. C3; a later correction
by the Associated Press put the number of
deaths at 4,000. Also see Sharon LaFraniere,
“2 Executed in China For Selling Tainted Milk,”
The New York Times, Nov. 25, 2009, p. A10.
19 Rick Weiss, “Tainted Chinese Imports Common,” The Washington Post, May 20, 2007, p. A1.
Dec. 17, 2010
Laurel Adams, “FDA Overseas Offices
Struggle to Meet Growing Import Demands,”
Center for Public Integrity, Oct. 26, 2010,
/2576/; Lisa Shames, op. cit., p. 1.
21 “Food Manufacturing NAICS 311,” U.S. Department of Commerce, February 2010,
22 “Genetically Modified Foods —“Experts
View Regimen of Safety Tests as Adequate
but FDA Evaluation Process Could Be Enhanced,” General Accounting Office [now
Government Accountability Office], May
2002, p. 4, www.gao.gov/new.items/d02566.
23 Rick Weiss, “U.S. Uneasy About Biotech
Food,” The Washington Post, Dec. 7, 2006,
p. A16; “Genetically Modified Foods . . . ,”
ibid., pp. 4-7.
24 April Fulton, “Senate Lurches Ahead on
Food Safety Bill, But Hurdles Remain,” Shots
(blog), NPR, Nov. 18, 2010, www.npr.org/blogs/
“Draft Assessment of Bisphenol A For Use
in Food Contact Applications,” FDA, Aug. 14,
2008, pp. 2-3, www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/
25 Feinstein quoted in Fulton, ibid.; Lyndsey
Layton, “Food safety bill’s ban on BPA resisted,” The Washington Post, April 26, 2010,
26 Quoted in Layton, ibid.
27 Jane Black, “Ice cream maker to adjust labeling,” The Washington Post, Sept. 28, 2010,
p. A22; Steve Connor, “Bovine growth hormone ‘could cut CO2 emissions,” The Independent (U.K.), July 1, 2008, p. 4.
Except where otherwise indicated, this subsection is drawn from Stephen Mihm, “A nation of outlaws,” Boston Globe, Aug. 26, 2007,
2007/08/26/a_nation_of_outlaws/; Marion Nestle,
Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2010).
“Significant Dates in U.S. Food and Drug Law
History,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration,
updated Oct. 14, 2010, www.fda.gov/About
05.htm; John P. Swann, “About FDA,” U.S. Food
and Drug Administration, updated June 18, 2009,
29 Quoted in Nestle, op. cit., p. 51.
30 Nestle, op. cit., p. 52.
31 Unless otherwise indicated, material from
this subsection is drawn from Ensuring Safe
Food: From Production to Consumption (1998),
Institute of Medicine, pp. 51-62, www.nap.edu/
Robert B. Wallace and Maria Oria, eds., Enhancing Food Safety: The Role of the Food and
Drug Administration (2010), Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, pp. 35-72,
32 “U.S. Food Imports,” U.S. Department of
Agriculture, Economic Research Service, updated April 21, 2010, www.ers.usda.gov/Data/food
33 Gary L. Benjamin, “Industrialization in Hog
Production: Implications for Midwest Agriculture,” Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago,
March 8, 1996, www.chicagofed.org/digital_
34 Tony Kennedy, “Schwan’s paying customers
who agree not to sue,” Star Tribune (Min-
About the Author
Peter Katel is a CQ Researcher staff writer who previously reported on Haiti and Latin America for Time and
Newsweek and covered the Southwest for newspapers in
New Mexico. He has received several journalism awards,
including the Bartolomé Mitre Award for coverage of drug
trafficking, from the Inter-American Press Association. He
holds an A.B. in university studies from the University of
New Mexico. His recent reports include “New Strategy in
Iraq,” “Rise in Counterinsurgency” and “Caring for Veterans.”
neapolis), Nov. 19, 1994, p. A1; “Salmonella
Victims Settle With Ice Cream Maker,” The
Associated Press, Nov. 18, 1994; Barnaby J.
Feder, “Obscure Company Gains Unwelcome
Prominence,” The New York Times, Nov. 23, 1994,
p. A26; Thomas W. Hennessy M.D., et al., “A
National Outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis Infections From Ice Cream,” New England Journal of Medicine, May 16, 1996, www.nejm.org/
36 Unless otherwise indicated, this subsection
is drawn from Nestle, op. cit.; Rick Weiss,
“FDA Rules Override Warnings About Drug,”
The Washington Post, March 4, 2007, www.
Resistance: Federal Agencies Need to Better
Focus Efforts to Address Risk to Humans from
Antibiotic Use in Animals,” General Accounting
Office, April, 2004, www.gao.gov/new.items/
37 “Antibiotic Resistance,” op. cit., p. 17.
38 “Scientists use simpler method to create
third U.S. cloned cow,” Florida Times-Union,
Aug. 30, 2000, p. A6; Andrew Pollack and
Andrew Martin, “F.D.A. Tentatively Declares
Food From Cloned Animals to Be Safe,” The
Washington Post, Dec. 29, 2006, p. A1.
39 Quoted in Rick Weiss, “FDA Says Clones
Are Safe for Food,” The Washington Post, Jan. 15,
2008, p. A1.
40 Quoted in ibid.
41 “Annual Listing of Foodborne Disease Outbreaks, United States, 1990-1997,” in “Outbreak
Surveillance Data,” Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention, Updated Sept. 19, 2010, www.
42 “Surveillance for Foodborne Disease Outbreaks — United States, 2007,” U.S. Centers for
Disease Control, Aug. 13, 2010, www.cdc.gov/
43 “Jack in the Box E.coli Outbreak — Western
States,” Marler Clark attorneys, undated, www.
marlerclark.com/case_news/view/jack-in-thebox-e-coli-outbreak-western-states; Daniel P.
Puzo, “On the Hamburger Trail,” Los Angeles
Times, Sept. 22, 1994, p. H1. Rick Weiss, “President Orders Overhaul Of Meat Safety Inspections,” The Washington Post, July 7, 1996,
p. A1; Michael Moss, “The Burger That Shattered Her Life,” The New York Times, Oct. 3,
“Guatemalan Raspberries Cited By CDC in
Spring Illness,” The Washington Post, July 19,
1996, p. A4; Tom Lowry, “Tainted food trend
poses alarming problem,” USA Today, Aug. 11,
1997, p. 4B.
45 Tony Perry, “Food Firm Pleads Guilty to
Fraud,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 14, 1997, p. A3.
46 Peter Perl, “Poisoned Package,” The Washington Post Magazine, Jan. 16, 2000, p. W8.
47 “U.S. Halts Imports of Mexican Canteloupes,”
Reuters (Los Angeles Times), Oct. 29, 2002,
Business Section, p. 3.
48 Victoria Kim and Mitchell Landsberg, “Huge
beef recall issued,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 18,
2008; Andrew Martin, “Stopping Deadly Bacteria,” The New York Times, Dec. 6, 2008, p. C1.
49 “USDA Investigates Deadly Outbreak of
Listeria in Northeast,” Reuters (Los Angeles
Times), Oct. 4, 2002, p. A36; “OutbreakNet,
Foodborne Outbreak Online Database,” U.S.
Centers for Disease Control, updated regularly,
50 Sandra G. Boodman, “Raw Menace; Major
Hepatitis A Outbreak Tied to Green Onions,”
The Washington Post, Nov. 25, 2003, p. F1;
51 Marla Cone, op. cit.; David Brown, op. cit.
52 “Pew: Historic U.S. Senate Food Safety Vote
Will Greatly Improve Protections From Foodborne Illness,” Pew Health Group, Pew Charitable Trusts, Nov. 30, 2010, www.pewtrusts.
53 “Senate Vote 257 — To Overhaul of Food
Safety Regulations,” Inside Congress, The New
York Times, Nov. 30, 2010, http://politics.ny
54 Quoted in John Stanton, “House May Block
Food Safety Bill Over Senate Error,” Roll Call,
Nov. 30, 2010, (subscription required), www.roll
56 Quoted in Ellyn Ferguson, “Objections to
Food Safety Bill Could Prove Insurmountable
in Lame-Duck,” CQ Today, Dec. 8, 2010, p. 14.
57 “Protest is On against the ‘Food Police Act,’ ”
Roanoke Tea Party, Dec. 8, 2010, www.roanoke
60 “Ed Schultz on Beck’s ‘Psycho Talk’ about
food-safety bill,” The Ed Show, MSNBC, Dec 2,
FOR MORE INFORMATION
American Meat Institute, 1150 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20036;
(202) 587-4200; www.meatami.com. Represents major meat-processing companies
to Congress and regulators, and helps industry stay abreast of regulatory and scientific developments.
Consumers Union, 101 Truman Ave., Yonkers, NY 10703; (914) 378-2000;
www.consumersunion.org/food.html. Advocacy organization favors more effective
regulation of food safety.
Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, 8116 Arlington Blvd., #263, Falls
Church, VA 22042; (703) 208-3276; www.farmtoconsumer.org. Opposes what it
calls unjust and burdensome regulation of small farmers, especially producers of
raw milk and other unprocessed foods.
Food Safety News, www.foodsafetynews.com. News website sponsored by Seattle
law firm Marler Clark LLP that covers nationwide food-safety developments, including
Grocery Manufacturers Association, 1350 I St., N.W., Washington, DC 20005;
(202) 639-5900; www.gmaonline.org. Food-industry trade association.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1600 Clifton Rd., Atlanta, GA
30333; (888) 232-6348; www.cdc.gov/foodsafety. Government’s leading medical
agency helps trace outbreaks of major food-borne illness to their sources and
maintains detailed statistics of outbreaks and causes.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, 1400 Independence Ave., S.W., Washington, DC 20250; (888) 674-6854; www.fsis.usda.gov.
Federal agency responsible for inspecting production and packaging of meat and
poultry, supplies data on policies, recalls and the science of pathogen detection.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 10903 New Hampshire Ave., Silver Spring,
MD 20903; (888) 463-6332; www.fda.gov/Food. Federal regulatory agency responsible for the safety of 80 percent of the food supply (not meat and poultry) and
a source of information on disease prevention.
“Begich Introduces Legislation to Stop
‘Frankenfish,’ ” press release, Nov. 18, 2010, http://
62 “Growth Curves (Growout),” AquaBounty,
63 Paul Voosen, “Begich introduces bill to ban
modified salmon,” Environment and Energy
Daily, Nov. 19, 2010.
64 “Briefing Packet,” Center for Veterinary Medicine, U.S. Food and Drug Administration,
Sept. 20, 2010, p. 62, www.fda.gov/downloads/
65 Quoted in “Genetically Modified Fish Review Flawed: Economist,” States News Service,
Dec. 2, 2010.
66 Lyndsey Layton, “FDA rules won’t require
salmon labels,” The Washington Post, Sept. 19,
2010, p. A6.
67 Quoted in ibid.
68 “Genetically Engineered Salmon Need Not
Be Labeled,” States News Service, Nov. 22, 2010.
69 Quoted in Layton, op. cit.
70 William Marler, “Get Food Safety Done!,”
Huffington Post, Dec. 2, 2010, www.huffing
Dec. 17, 2010
Miller, Henry I., and Gregory Conko, The Frankenfood
Myth: How Protest and Politics Threaten the Biotech
Revolution, Praeger, 2004.
A scientist and a conservative policy advocate argue that
objections to genetically modified foods reflect fear and ignorance of science.
Nestle, Marion, Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety,
University of California Press, 2010 edition.
A microbiologist with a long career in academia and nutrition
policy analyzes the major issues affecting food safety.
Wallace, Robert B., and Maria Oria, eds., Enhancing
Food Safety: The Role of the Food and Drug Administration, National Academies Press, 2010.
The non-governmental Institute of Medicine examines the
workings of the FDA and proposes improvements.
Konrad, Walecia, “In the Age of Recalls, Tips for a
Pathogen-Free Kitchen,” The New York Times, Sept. 4,
2010, p. B5.
The Times reports on measures that the seriously safetyconscious take — including washing possibly contaminated
kitchen surfaces with hydrogen peroxide.
Layton, Lyndsey, “Salmonella-tainted eggs linked to U.S. government’s failure to act,” The Washington Post, Dec. 11,
A food-policy specialist investigates a contaminated-egg episode.
Moss, Michael, “The Burger That Shattered Her Life,”
The New York Times, Oct. 3, 2009, www.nytimes.com/2009/
In one of the most hard-hitting and influential food-contamination
stories of recent years, a Times correspondent traces failures in
ground-meat processing to the outbreak that left a young dance
instructor unable to walk.
Reports and Studies
Harris, Gardiner, and William Neuman, “Salmonella Found
in ’08 At Egg Farm,” The New York Times, Sept. 15, 2010,
Signs of health hazards that led to this year’s egg recall
were evident two years ago, an account by two specialist
reporters makes clear.
Hughlett, Mike, “The Fight To Keep Your Burger Safe From
E. Coli,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, Sept. 12, 2010, p. A1.
In a long and detailed account from the floor of a Colorado
slaughterhouse, a correspondent reports on efforts to keep
pathogens out of ground beef.
Neuman, William, “After Delays, Vaccine to Counter Bad
Beef Is Being Tested,” The New York Times, Dec. 3, 2009,
A science correspondent reports on the technical and regulatory complications in the search for a cattle vaccine against E.coli.
“Agencies Need to Address Gaps in Enforcement and
Collaboration to Enhance Safety of Imported Food,” Government Accountability Office, September 2009, www.gao.
Major deficiencies exist in the government program to inspect imports for contaminants and other dangers, Congress’
nonpartisan investigative arm reports.
Becker, Geoffrey S., “The Federal Food-Safety System: A
Primer,” Congressional Research Service, April 20, 2010,
A food-policy specialist for Congress’ nonpartisan research
arm provides an overview of a system that is far more intricate than the public may realize.
Huffstutter, P. J., “Raw-food raid highlights a hunger,” Los
Angeles Times, http://articles.latimes.com/print/2010/
Believers in the benefits of raw milk and other unprocessed
foods are among opponents of increased FDA regulation.
Gurian-Sherman, Doug, “Failure to Yield: Evaluating the
Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops,” Union of
Concerned Scientists, April 2009, www.ucsusa.org/assets/
A staff scientist for a longstanding advocacy organization
concludes that genetically modified crops fail to live up to
their billing as solutions to food scarcity, especially in developing countries.
Judd, Alan, “States to grade their own inspectors,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 19, 2009, p. A1.
Georgia state inspectors didn’t report violations that led to
a peanut-borne salmonella outbreak last year, but the financially strapped FDA wants state inspectors to evaluate
their own work.
Johnson, Renée, “Food Safety in the 111th Congress:
H.R. 2749 and S. 510,” Congressional Research Service,
Oct. 7, 2010, www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R40443.pdf.
Similarities and differences in House and Senate food-safety
bills are analyzed in depth by a specialist for Congress’ nonpartisan research office.
The Next Step:
Additional Articles from Current Periodicals
Genetically Modified Food
Bauers, Sandy, “Suit Seeks to Halt Engineered Crops at
Refuge,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 2, 2010, p. B2.
Several environmental and food-safety groups are seeking
to stop the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware
from allowing farmers to plant genetically engineered crops
on refuge land near a major waterfowl sanctuary.
Dininny, Shannon, “Researchers Asking U.S. to Approve
Apple That Won’t Turn Brown,” Detroit Free Press, Dec. 12,
2010, p. E10.
A Canadian biotechnology company has asked the United
States to approve a genetically modified apple that won’t
turn brown after it has been sliced.
Obra, Joan, “Farmers Wrangle Over Organic Dairy Standards,” Fresno (California) Bee, Feb. 23, 2010.
Farmers in favor of biotech crops are facing opposition
from those who fear genetically modified organisms.
“Aussie Honeybees May Be Wiping Out U.S. Hives,” Salt
Lake Tribune, June 19, 2010.
Disease-carrying honeybees imported from Australia may
be responsible for a mysterious disorder that has infected
beehives across the United States.
Belsie, Laurent, et al., “How to Keep Our Global Menu Off
the Recall List,” The Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 23,
As food imports flood into the United States, it may be
time to revamp the country’s regulations on food safety.
Olson, David, “Leave Chicharrones Snacks at Border,”
Press Enterprise (California), Jan. 19, 2010, p. C4.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has implemented new regulations that ban the importation of pork skins from most Mexican states unless accompanied by an official declaration that
they were cooked in ways that eliminate the swine flu virus.
Eisler, Peter, “Egg Crisis Piques Interest in Bill,” USA Today,
Aug. 25, 2010, p. 5A.
The outbreak of salmonella in eggs has energized efforts to
enact legislation that could prevent or mitigate such problems.
Lochhead, Carolyn, “Feinstein’s Call to Ban Chemical Riles
Lobbies,” The San Francisco Chronicle, July 12, 2010, p. A1.
Food and chemical industries have promised to fight any
food-safety bill that includes a provision to ban bisphenol A,
a chemical widely used to line food cans.
O’Keefe, Ed,“Official Blows Whistle On Food-Safety Agency,”
The Washington Post, March 5, 2010, p. B3.
A Food Safety and Inspection Service veterinarian has told
lawmakers that managers have repeatedly failed to heed his
warnings concerning unsafe slaughterhouse practices.
Jalonick, Mary Clare, “Tainted Ingredient Sold After Salmonella Found,” The Associated Press, March 10, 2010.
A Las Vegas company continued to manufacture an ingredient after tests confirmed it was made using contaminated
equipment, according to an FDA report.
Mills, Steve, “Recalls Don’t Get All Tainted Groceries,”
Chicago Tribune, July 28, 2010, p. A1.
Most food-recall warnings reach only a fraction of the consumers who may have already eaten the product.
Willis, Elizabeth, “Recalls Aid Local Food Safety Efforts,”
Battle Creek (Michigan) Enquirer, Aug. 26, 2010.
The bureaucratic nature of food inspections has led to
many recalls that could have been prevented.
CITING CQ RESEARCHER
Sample formats for citing these reports in a bibliography
include the ones listed below. Preferred styles and formats
vary, so please check with your instructor or professor.
Sullivan, Bartholomew, “Stakes High in Catfish Fight,”
Commercial Appeal (Tennessee), Oct. 31, 2010, p. C1.
The Catfish Farmers of America says Vietnamese imports
of catfish follow questionable food-safety standards.
Blumenthal, Les, “Food-Safety Bill Wins Senate OK,”
Buffalo (New York) News, Dec. 1, 2010, p. A5.
The U.S. Senate has passed a bill designed to give the
Food and Drug Administration new power to protect consumers from unsafe food.
Jost, Kenneth. “Rethinking the Death Penalty.” CQ Researcher
16 Nov. 2001: 945-68.
Jost, K. (2001, November 16). Rethinking the death penalty.
CQ Researcher, 11, 945-968.
Jost, Kenneth. “Rethinking the Death Penalty.” CQ Researcher,
November 16, 2001, 945-968.
Dec. 17, 2010
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