The Washington Post reports today that documents show that the Food and Drug Administration had known for many years about the problems that led to E. coli contamination in produce late last year, which resulted in hundreds of cases of illness, three deaths, and a massive recall of spinach. They did pretty much nothing about it.
“We know that there are still problems out in those fields,” [Robert E. Brackett, director of the FDA’s food-safety arm] said in an interview last week. “We knew there had been a problem, but we never and probably still could not pinpoint where the problem was.
The reason, of course, is that the FDA has a much tighter budget than they used to, even though we’re importing and processing more food than ever.
In another recent case that I don’t remember hearing about before,
an agency report shows that FDA inspectors checked into complaints about salmonella contamination in a ConAgra Foods factory in Georgia in 2005. But when company managers refused to provide documents the inspectors requested, the inspectors left and did not follow up.
In 2006, a salmonella outbreak that was later traced to that factory made over 400 people sick.
Funny thing is: according to Brackett, it’s a step forward for the FDA to be doing business this way.
Explosive growth in the number of processors and the amount of imported foods means that manufacturers “have to build safety into their products rather than us chasing after them,” Brackett said. “We have to get out of the 1950s paradigm.”
Ah yes, that silly old 1950s paradigm where we foolishly expected law enforcement agencies to “chase after” lawbreakers right away and not wait for them to do more serious damage. How superior it is to do as we do now, collecting our government salaries for the hard work of sitting back with our arms folded and simply expecting businesses not to gamble with people’s lives in order to maximize their own profits. If we just expect hard enough, others will certainly follow, and when they don’t and people fall ill or die as a result, well, at least we’ll know that it’s in no way because we didn’t do our job. We never lowered our expectations, not for a moment, no sirree.