“There is no more important mission at USDA than ensuring the safety of our food, and we are working every day as part of the President’s Food Safety Working Group to lower the danger of foodborne illness. The new standards announced today mark an important step in our efforts to protect consumers by further reducing the incidence of Salmonella and opening a new front in the fight against Campylobacter,” announced Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on Monday.
Under these new proposed regulations, 7.5% of the chicken at a processing plant may test positive for salmonella. In 2009, average salmonella levels were at 7.1%, so I guess these giant food conglomerates won’t have to stretch too hard to meet the proposed rule. I suppose it’s better than the 20% salmonella contamination that’s allowed under current regulations. But perhaps current regulations are not the best standard with which to judge the new rules, given that they don’t regulate campylobacter at all.
Campylobacter causes diarrhea, cramping, fever, and there are no federal standards governing how much of it can be in your food. Under the proposed regulations, companies may not have more than 10% of their carcasses “highly-contaminated” by campylobacter, and no more than 46% may be contaminated at a “low-level.” I feel better, don’t you?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, campylobacter sickens over 2.4 million Americans per year, and about 124 of those die each year. The Department of Agriculture estimates that the new regulations will reduce the number sickened by 39,000. If my math is correct, that is an improvement of some 1.6%. Salmonella sickens over 1.4 million and kills over 500 in the U.S. each year, and the new regulations should result in 26,000 fewer cases, which is an improvement of 1.9%. I’m glad they are raising the bar, however incrementally, but it still seems like there’s more that could be done.
“These standards will have probably the greatest public impact for consumers’ health since anything USDA has adopted in the last 15 years,” says Caroline Smith DeWall, food safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. That’s really more of an indictment of the laxity of the USDA over the past 15 years than a testament to the power of the new regulations, but it sure sounds good, doesn’t it?
In related news, the President’s Cancer Panel has released it’s new annual report, which warns that the dangers posed by chemicals in the environment has been “grossly underestimated.” The cover letter, addressed to President Obama pleads with him “to use the power of your office to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our nation’s productivity, and devastate American lives.”
The current system places the burden on the government to prove that a chemical is unsafe before it can removed from the market. The standards are so high, the government has been unable to ban chemicals such as asbestos, a widely recognized carcinogen that is prohibited in many other countries.
About 80,000 chemicals are in commercial use in the United States, but federal regulators have assessed only about 200 for safety.
And the New York Times lays out some of the recommendations of the panel to reduce your cancer risk:
- Buying produce grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers, or washing it thoroughly to remove them.
- Buying meat free of and added hormones, and avoiding processed, charred and well-done meat.
I know, I know, you’re thinking this is because it’s Obama’s advisory panel, so he probably stocked it full of granola hippies and it’s a conspiracy to get everyone to eat organic foods, right? Not really:
The panel normally has three members, appointed by the president. Currently there are only two: Dr. Leffall [Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall Jr. of Howard University] and Dr. Margaret L. Kripke, a professor emerita from the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Both were originally appointed by President.
Anyway, if you haven’t already been convinced that the explosion of unregulated chemicals throughout our environment might possibly have some detrimental effects, you probably won’t be convinced by this report. For everyone else, this is a sobering wake up call. Please see this post also for an important explanation of why it’s a good idea to take personal responsibility to ensure that you are safe. Waiting for the regulators to step up to the plate might just mean that you become the next statistic.
About the Author (Author Profile)is a full-time wage slave and part-time philosopher, writing and living just outside Omaha with his lovely wife and two feline roommates.
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