Did you read the article this weekend in the New York Times that showed step-by-step all of the lacks of safety inspections in our food? The expose was enough of the beef industry was enough to make your stomach churn — and maybe even enough to give up beef altogether.
It’s just one more reason why we need better food safety laws now. In the U.S., you can urge your Senators to pass the Food Safety Enhancement Act. In Canada, you can ask Prime Minister Harper and the House of Commons Committee on Agriculture to improve the food safety system.
The New York Times article uses the example of Stephanie Smith, a 22-year-old Minnesota woman who ate a hamburger her mom had grilled for Sunday dinner — a hamburger that was infected with a strain of E. coli that put her in a coma for nine weeks and has left her paralyzed.
In the last three years, ground beef has been the culprit in 16 outbreaks of the E. coli strain O157:H7 that has sickened thousands of Americans. This virulent strain was at fault in the Jack in the Box outbreaks in 1994 that killed four children and let to a ban on selling beef contaminated with that strain. The Times reports:
The department moved to require some bacterial testing of ground beef, but the industry argued that the cost would unfairly burden small producers, industry officials said. The Agriculture Department opted to carry out its own tests for E. coli, but it acknowledges that its 15,000 spot checks a year at thousands of meat plants and groceries nationwide is not meant to be comprehensive. Many slaughterhouses and processors have voluntarily adopted testing regimes, yet they vary greatly in scope from plant to plant.
It’s not just meat — remember recent outbreaks form contaminated spinach, peppers and peanuts? Every year, 76 million Americans are sickened and 325,000 are hospitalized from consuming contaminated food — and 5,000 of these people die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Unbelievably, the Food and Drug Administration only inspects food factories on average once every 10 years, checks less than 1 percent of food shipments imported from China and other foreign countries and doesn’t even have the authority to force food companies to recall contaminated foods. (Sign a petition letter here to give the FDA broader control over food safety.)
Canada’s food safety laws are just as lax; one year ago, 22 Canadians died from tainted Maple Leaf Foods cold cuts. Canada’s given more resources to government food safety inspectors — but many inspection programs remain woefully and dangerously understaffed. For example, there are only two consumer protection inspectors covering all retail food stores in the entire City of Toronto! And the inspection programs for fish processing and slaughter establishments are almost as short staffed, posing real and significant public health risks. (Sign a petition letter here to tell PM Harper to fix the food safety deficit.)
The Times article on Stephanie Smith highlights just how bad things were at the plant that produced her contaminated burger–inspectors had filed complaints about patties on the floor and left-over bits of meat in the grinders, but nothing had been done. Such conditions make the spread of bacteria easier.
The story of Stephanie Smith’s burger is a worthwhile read — and it reminds us just how important our food safety system is! Read it, and then take action to demand stronger food safety laws in the U.S. and in Canada!
Want to find out more and get meat-free recipes? Check out a related Care2 Healthy and Green article.
Photograph by infomatique, used under Creative Commons