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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

Lots and Lots of Unsafe Food

Dylan Blaylock, March 05, 2010

USDA whistleblower and GAP client Dean Wyatt testified yesterday before the House Subcommittee on Domestic Policy (under Oversight and Government Reform). Wyatt, a supervisory veterinarian at the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) reported shocking mistreatment and unsafe butchering of animals at two slaughterhouses. His disclosures raise serious concerns about the state of American food integrity.

For more info on the case and allegations, check out GAP’s press release here, or the USA Today story or Washington Post piece.

Wyatt’s testimony paints a terrible picture of FSIS as being, in many cases, more interested in keeping corporations happy than protecting public safety.

But Wyatt’s isn’t the only major food safety story to appear over the last couple of days (shocking, I know).

First, according to a new study released earlier this week, food illness costs the United States about $152 billion annually in doctor visits, lost work days, medications, and other similar costs.

Additionally, news broke yesterday that literally thousands of processed food products contain a flavoring ingredient which has tested positive for salmonella. A massive recall is underway, but only for those products in which the salmonella would not have been destroyed through cooking methods performed before the product reached store shelves (less than 100 are being recalled at this point).

While no deaths or illnesses have been reported, this episode underlines the growing need for a strong and comprehensive food safety-monitoring system to deal with the changing nature of food production. From the NYT:

The recall demonstrates the risks of the nation’s increasingly industrialized food supply chain. Specialized food plants may supply scores of customers involved in the production of thousands of products. Contamination at any one of these specialized plants can reverberate through nearly every aisle in the grocery store.

“Many of these recent recalls,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, “show that an error in a single ingredient plant — whether peanut butter, spices or flavor enhancers — can cause repercussions throughout the food chain.”

Similar articles can be found in USA Today and the Washington Post. But with one single component effecting thousands of products, consumers must wonder – what would have happened if the strain of virus was something more nasty? What if people started dying of salmonella, but the infection stemmed from a similar component in even more products? What if this had been discovered from sicknesses – not the supplier?

Food safety should be a pro-active issue with our changing food system infrastructure. Reactive measures always come too late.