Food poisoning

Published: Thursday, July 31, 2008 7:38 AM EDT

 

Source of Article:  http://www.timesonline.com/articles/2008/07/31/opinion/editorials/doc48909f0df1940634732179.txt

 

We need only one word to demonstrate how appalling it is that lobbyists were able to derail federal regulations designed to create a quick tracking system for food-borne illness in the United States: Chi-Chi’s.

Anyone living through the 2003 hepatitis A epidemic in Beaver County knows how imported green onions served at a Chi-Chi’s restaurant wrought havoc and tragedy. The toll: 660 sickened, five dead and numerous people hospitalized by the ravaging virus.

Yet the White House in 2004 and 2005 killed regulations that would have permitted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration a quicker and easier method of tracking down sources of such outbreaks.

The Associated Press reported this week that lobbyists were behind the travesty.

The report outlined how the food industry pressured the Bush administration to limit paperwork that companies have to maintain in order for federal health inspectors to trace tainted produce.

It also quashed a plan requiring the food industry to maintain an electronic tracking system that would have allowed investigators to quickly trace an outbreak’s source.

The Associated Press found that business groups met at least 10 times with administration officials between 2004 and 2005 while the FDA regulations were being debated.

Food industry marketing groups spent more than $4 million on lobbying during those years.

Their argument: The regulations were too costly, too burdensome and so unnecessary.

Meanwhile, Americans are being poisoned almost daily by their meat and potatoes. We also note that toxic pet food and tooth paste recently entered the mix.

The latest outbreak — one of the worst in U.S. history — has sickened nearly 1,300 people in 43 states with salmonella poisoning. Health investigators are focusing on Mexican-grown jalapenos, but they aren’t sure.

“If the FDA had been given the resources and authority years ago that it asked for to solve these kinds of problems, I think we would have solved this already,” William Hubbard, a former FDA associate commissioner, told The AP.

The food industry — facing $250 million in business losses due to the salmonella outbreak — is now a believer. It will agree to a better tracking system, but only if it can advise the government on how to design it.

But the industry’s track record speaks for itself.

We need utter only one word: Chi-Chi’s.

 

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