The Next Katrina Waiting To Happen
The Government Accountability Office has added food safety to its list of critically flawed federal programs, saying that splintered jurisdiction among 15 agencies has left the United States wide open to outbreaks of food-borne illness or, worse, a terrorist attack, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.
The article also quotes a senior administration official who states that President Bush would seek an increase of about $11 million for food safety during the 2008 fiscal year. Much of the funding apparently will target reducing the risk from produce outbreaks, such as the E. coli-contaminated California spinach that killed three and sickened more than 200 in the fall.
Consumer and industry groups, however, are critical of the Food and Drug Administration’s response to these outbreaks. They say the FDA has not allocated sufficient resources or funds thereby having to eliminate numerous field inspector jobs as well as scientific and technical positions, which are key in protecting the nation from these outbreaks.
“I could not agree more with GAO’s conclusion that we are in need of a fundamental re-examination of our food-safety system,” said Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee.
The GAO has also said that food safety is an area of high risk because the system is outdated, unscientific and lacks accountability. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the FDA, Department of Agriculture and the USDA all operate under a different sets of laws. For example, while the USDA must continually inspect slaughterhouses, FDA inspections are infrequent.
The Times article points out an issue that has me very concerned, our venerability to mass outbreaks of food-borne illnesses. Over the last five years we have seen a steady increase in the number of food poisoning cases reported to us. With our nation’s food production and distribution systems becoming more and more centralized, the chances of a contamination having catastrophic, lightening fast, effects is multiplied.
With Katrina, we knew the New Orleans levies were vulnerable and we saw the hurricane coming. With our food system, we know we are vulnerable, but we will not see the outbreak coming. We’ll only know when we have been hit, when our hospitals overflow with the casualties of our governments ineptitude. Recent happenings with the bagged spinach and lettuce have proved to us that there will be bigger outbreaks in the future if our governmental agencies do not take prompt action with more stringent regulation and inspection It is matter of when, not if.
President Bush, our food supply is venerable to illnesses of mass destruction, please focus your attention on protecting America’s food supply. I realize there are no “big bucks” contracts for supplies and services that can be handed out to your campaign contributors for protecting our food distribution systems. Look at it as “the right thing to do”. However, if the calamity that I fear occurs on your watch, history will not treat you kindly. You will never be the revered former president that your predecessors and your father are.
And Mr. President, the way to protect America is not to relieve the food suppliers from financial responsibility through some new tort deform. Holding wrongdoers accountable is the American way, even if it isn’t your way. If potential wrongdoers know our justice system will hold them accountable, they will self police. If you relieve them of responsibility for their negligence, they will have no incentive to go the extra mile to keep our food safe. What say you, Mr. President?
Governor Schwarzenegger, this would be a great place for you to step in and be the hero by proactively instituting regulations and procedures that protect California’s food production and distribution systems from economic disastor as well as protecting the people of this great State.. Since California is such a huge supplier of food to the nation, it is in our food producing and distribution industries’ best interest to avoid another “spinach nightmare”. How much did the last one cost California’s economy. You were quick to move in declaring a “disaster” when the citrus crops were severely damaged last month. How about moving quickly to avoid this looming disaster?
I am committed to holding negligent food producers, food distributors, government agencies, restaurants, food handlers and school officials responsible for their lack of attention to proper food production, distribution and handling. If you or a loved one has been a victim of a food-borne illness, contact me.