In accordance with the definition of capitalism, we will constantly be doing battle with private industry, bent only the accumulation of profit, in order to protect our health and the health of the environment. The state must be forced to be ever vigilant in the establishment of laws and regulations that would safeguard our overall well-being. And often, regulatory strictures focus around minutiae in creating solutions. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is proposing legislation that would allow the USDA the authority to issue mandatory recalls of tainted beef, poultry and pork. Astonishingly, the USDA currently can only politely recommend that a manufacturer, retailer, distributor or importer recall a product, and that request can be refused. If, however, the product contains an adulterant such as E.coli, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) can then mandate a recall. Gillibrand’s bill, the Meat and Poultry Recall Notification Act, is designed to overcome the fact that Salmonella is not considered to be an adulterant. The law, in effect, would simply allow the FSIS to label Salmonella an adulterant. The law would clean up the mess that stands, where the FDA, the agency that regulates manufactured food products, can and does ban Salmonella from food, but the FSIS, that oversees beef, chicken and pork, cannot. The roadblock lies in the simple labeling of Salmonella as an adulterant. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that Salmonella, a fecal bacteria, sickens 1.4 million people a year in the U.S., hospitalizing 1,500 and killing 400. It is also estimated that these particular illnesses and deaths cost $3.6 billion a year in medical costs, wage losses and premature death.
There is precedent that would support the merits of Gillibrand’s bill. You may remember the E.coli outbreak in 1993 which was linked to 73 Jack in the Box restaurants. Seven hundred and thirty people were sickened, four children died, and many were left with kidney and brain damage. That most of the victims were children under the age of 10 galvanized the public to demand that something to done. Under Bill Clinton, the then FSIS Administrator Michael Taylor proposed a “Zero Tolerance Rule,” and the E.coli bacteria was labeled an adulterant. Even though the beef industry sued against the rule, over time it was found that, according to Bill Marler, whose law firm handles food safety issues, “industry and government found that with E.coli banned, the numbers of outbreaks and recalls linked to hamburgers fell from commonplace to infrequent.”
Despite the success of the “Zero Tolerance Rule,” Congress, controlled by industry, continued to resist further legislation that would ensure greater food safety. In 2014, a group of legislators introduced a bill, the Pathogens Reduction and Testing Reform Act, which would have amended the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act and the Egg Products Inspection Act to include language that would add any “microbial pathogen that is associated with serious illness or death” to the list of food products that could be recalled. Two sponsors of the bill, Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Louise Slaughter of New York, stated at the time that the “USDA has failed to recall meat contaminated with anti-biotic resistant pathogens because they do not believe they have the legal authority to do so. This bill will ensure there is no confusion…We need federal agencies that will protect public health, not bend to the threats of deep-pocketed food producers seeking to escape regulation.” The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) backed the bill, saying “CSPI believes USDA can act now to declare dangerous strains of anti-biotic resistant Salmonella to be adulterants.” That bill died in Congress.
And this is really a simple matter of language. The Federal Meat Inspection Act describes adulterated meat as “containing poisons, toxic pesticides, unsafe food additives or contains any deleterious substance which may render it injurious to health; but in case the substance is not an adulterant under this clause the quantity of such substance in or on such article does not ordinarily render it it injurious to health.” That typically most people do not develop symptoms when infected with Salmonella, and others who do get sick recover within a few days without treatment, apparently has led the USDA to believe that it is not “injurious to health.” The 400 people who die from it every year would beg to differ.
As Bill Marler says, “safer food should be non-partisan. Republicans and Democrats eat and drink, and they have parents, kids, grandkids, and constituents who are some of the most vulnerable to foodborne illness.” Senator Gillibrand’s bill is simple, reasonable and is certainly a small step Congress can take to make the food we all eat safer.
Recipe of the Week
I’m always advocating homemade chicken stock to boost the flavor of various stews and soups, especially since the stock one can buy is chock full of sodium. There’s no reason, however, one can’t use vegetable stock instead, and it takes far less time than chicken or beef stock to make.
Get the biggest pot you have and add:
1 cup of onion skins
4 cups of celery, including the leaves
1/2 cup of chopped carrots
1 cup of leeks, chopped (optional)
mushroom stems (about 1 cup)
asparagus trimmings (about 1 cup)
one or two chopped tomatoes, with their skins
Cover the vegetables with cold water and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and cook for two hours. Drain. This should make about 8 cups of stock, but you can add more vegetables and make as much as you like since it freezes well.