The Failure of Food Safety

Original post on Focus Organic

On June 3, Obama Foodorama reported yet another recall by an Oregon based firm of 30,000 lbs of beef that could be infected with E Coli which is in addition to the almost 300,000 lbs recalled last month.  The larger problem?  AG Secretary Tom Vilsak’s failure to name a new head of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the divison of the USDA that manages poultry, meat and eggs.   The USDA is infamous for appointing officials that are so close to the industry, they might as well register as lobbyists for Big Meat (but then, they couldn’t technically be qualified for the position) therefore turning this regulatory body of the US government into nothing more than a crappy label.  Sure, the USDA has been protecting the industry it is supposed to regulate for years as opposed to protecting consumer interest – but why are they having such a hard time naming a new head of FSIS? 

It’s all in the politics.  As Tom Laskawy of Civil Eats puts it,

The three candidates mentioned for the post so far, Michael Osterholm, Michael Taylor (though it’s unclear if he was really up for the job) and Mike Doyle (so many Mikes!) are all champions of what Marion Nestle likes to call “late-stage techno-fixes.” Or, as Obamafoodorama puts it, “Zap the crap!” But even worse, they are extremely closely tied to the industries they are meant to regulate — each of the three has at some point performed work for a regulated company or an industry group.  As a result, they have all provoked strong responses from consumer and sustainable food advocates which appear to have successfully punctured every trial balloon Vilsack has floated.

Of course, you could call it a victory for consumer activitsts – the very idea that the seat is still empty means they are having an impact.  But then, it’s also been reported that Vilsack has vetted several other food advocates like Caroline Smith DeWaal and Bill Marler and passed, knowing their appointments would cause massive protest from the meat industry.

So while they fight it out, food safety in this country has not gotten any better and doesn’t appear to be headed there any time soon.  As I sent the recall link out to the staff in my office, I reminded them to be careful and buy local.  The truth is, there is no easy way to eat completely healthy and sustainable because those in charge make it nearly impossible.  One of the easiest ways to ensure you are getting good quality meat, produce and dairy is to know exactly where it’s coming from, and even that isn’t perfect.  It’s our job as consumers to continue to investigate and shed light on the failures of these institutions that claim to have our best interests in mind.

Posted by: Ashley / follow me on Twitter

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