HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Sunday, April 29, 2007

FDA: Not Exactly Keeping the US Food Supply Safe

Well, the FDA has apparently taken action against those pet food distributors - but not before some pigs and chickens were fed the tainted food.  oops!  I find it rather discouraging and frightening that the FDA has become either overly trusting of companies to clean themselves or so overworked that they cannot keep upwith all the issues facing food and drugs in the US.  As someone with neither the talent or the time to grow all my own food, I tend to agree with Christy Hardin Smith from Firedoglake who writes:

As the mother of a healthy, growing preschooler — who also happens to be a bit of a picky eater, but loves peanut butter toast — this is not only infuriating, it is downright terrifying:

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

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

They knew — KNEW!for years that there was a problem but relied on the companies to "police themselves"??!!?? Are they completely daft? (Don't answer that.)

As a mother, the thought that the FDA knew that my child, and every other peanut butter eating child in America, could potentially contract salmonella poisoning from a plant with a history of contamination issues but just kept right on allowing that company to manufacture the peanut butter without ensuring the safety of the product?  Even after the contamination was discovered? That is beyond incompetent and negligent.  Especially when you consider just how deadly salmonella can be to a small child.  And if you consider how many kids with compromised immune systems could be added into the mix with a food substance that kids eat by the jar on a weekly basis?  Or how many poor kids whose families can afford peanut butter as a staple for these kids, and who depend on this as a means of feeding the family several days a week for lunch and/or dinner?  Uh.  Mah.  Gawd.

As a former prosecutor, the words that I'm looking for are alleged criminal negligence and/or manslaughter. This is beyond infuriating and, as a parent, I am now asking myself "what else?" Beyond tainted peanut butter and spinach, what else is getting into our food supply that the FDA knows is a problem but isn't bothering to tell the public about it?  And, here's a question, if the FDA knew that there was a problem — then did these manufacturing and processing facilities also know and just keep right on churning this tainted food into the grocery stores anyway?

Here's a clue: you know of a problem in the food supply that could kill my child, the answer is not to keep your mouth shut and hope that the problem magically disappears on its own because the corporation might just be run by some good citizen who will shut down production, not worry about immediate bottom line profits and do the right thing. Nuh uh. You shut down production immediately, you fix the problem and you do not endanger my child. Is that clear enough for you?

As for some good news, the FDA's idea to permit chocolate manufactures to sell chocolate that doesn't contain cocoa butter has caused such an uproar that the FDA has extended the comment period.

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