Afraid to Eat?

August 25th, 2010 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on Afraid to Eat?

Even if you haven’t been paying close attention to the news lately, there’s still a pretty good chance that you may have heard about the 2 major food recalls in the past week. Last week a half-billion eggs were recalled after labratory tests confirmed salmonella. Iowa’s Hillendale Farms recalled more than 170 million eggs and another 380 million eggs were recalled by Wright County Egg, another Iowa farm. There have already been 1,000 cases of Salmonella reported from the tainted eggs, and this number is expected to rise. According to the FDA, the two recalls were related. The strain of salmonella is the same from both farms.

On Tuesday, the USDA announced a nationwide recall involving 380,000 pounds of deli meat, sold through Wal-Mart and supplied from Zemco Industries in Buffalo, NY. There have not been any illnesses reported from the meat so far, but the USDA said, ““Consumption of food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes can cause listeriosis, an uncommon but potentially fatal disease. Healthy people rarely contract listeriosis. However, listeriosis can cause high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness and nausea.” Listeria monocytogenes is what was detected in the meat samples collected by inspectors.

Clearly, we have very serious food safety issues in our country that need to be addressed – and addressed immediately. If people cannot trust their food supply and feel nervous and cautious about shopping in their local markets for fear of getting sick, then we have a major problem. If we want to have a conversation about National Security in this country, then issues concerning the health and well being of our food supply need to be part of the dialog. It’s difficult to think of anything that would make someone feel more insecure than having to constantly be concerned about whether or not the very food that they put into their bodies will cause them harm. An uneasy feeling of “what’s next” becomes the norm. This level of tainted food in our system is simply unacceptable – there is no other way to put it. At a time when many voices are crying for deregulation, certainly within our food industry, what we need is much tighter regulation with much more stringent oversight . . . which is a perfect seguay into this announcement last Thursday from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on the appointment of Dr. Elisabeth Hagen as Under Secretary for Food Safety.

“There is no higher priority at USDA than ensuring that Americans have access to a safe and healthy food supply, and Dr. Hagen’s background as the Chief Medical Officer and senior executive within USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service will enable her to successfully lead the effort to develop and execute the agency’s scientific and public health agenda, and continue to build the coordination with public health partners at federal, state, and local level needed to achieve the objectives of President Obama’s Food Safety Working Group.”

I’m guessing that Dr. Hagen won’t need much direction in terms of prioritization on her first day at her new job. Here’s hoping that the Department of Agriculture and our Congress get serious about regulating large agribusiness! It is indeed an issue of National Security.