Bart Stupak and Henry Waxman certainly set a tone with their letter to Eggman Jack "Austin" DeCoster on September 14, 2010, "inviting" him to testify at the Committee on Energy and Commerce (subcommitte called "Oversight and Investigations") hearing on Wednesday.
Environmental sample reports between 2008 and 2010 indicate that Wright County Egg received 426 positive results for Salmonella, including 73 samples that were potentially positive for Salmonella Enteritidis, the same strain that has sickened 1,519 people. This letter includes a sununary of the laboratory results.
On August 23, 20 I 0, the Committee wrote you to ask you to provide "[ dJocurnents
sufficient to show the dates and results of all instances of monitoring or analysis that yielded a positive finding for microbiological testing." Despite the Committee’s specific request, your response on September II , 20 I 0, did not include the 73 potentially positive results for Salmonella Enteritidis. It also did not show whether Wright County Egg took appropriate steps to protect the public after receiving the positive test results.
When you testify before the Committee, we ask that you come prepared to explain why your facilities tested potentially positive for Salmonella Enteritidis contamination on so many occasions, what steps you took to address the contamination identified in these test results, and whether you shared these results with FDA or other federal or state food safety officials.
We understand that your September II document production to the Committee was a partial production and that you are continuing to search for responsive records. We are concerned, however, that you did not inform the Committee of the potentially positive Salmonella Enteritidis test results. We ask that you produce these test results and all other responsive documents, including all documents relating to your response to the test results, to the Committee by Wednesday, September 15,2010. We also ask that you explain as part of this production why your September II response did not include the test results.
But Wednesday’s hearing should not occur in a vacuum. The egg outbreak, and Wright County’s failures leading to it, must be considered alongside our national posture on food safety. Most notably, the past few days brought news that the Food Safety Modernization Act likely will not pass, or even earn a spot at the table for a vote, before the expiration of the Senate’s current session. But also, the Wright County Egg outbreak and Wednesday’s hearing occurred in conjunction with notable failures by the FDA and USDA.
Makes one think that we are fighting an uphill battle–an icy one at that–with regard to regulating and practicing food safety. Politics and economics are both at play, while some of the most abhorrent fates imaginable occur for innocent victims. Please also recall the recent study released by the Union of Concerned Scientists, which makes it look like the deck is truly stacked against the food consuming public:
To evaluate how well the government uses science to protect the food supply, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), working with researchers at Iowa State University, sent a 44-question survey to nearly 8,000 food safety employees at the FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which together oversee our food system. More than 1,700 employees responded. The results reveal a food safety system where special interests and public officials all too often inhibit the ability of government scientists and inspectors to protect the food supply.
- 330 respondents (27 percent) had personally experienced, either frequently or occasionally, “instances where the public health has been harmed by businesses withholding food safety information from agency investigators.” Meanwhile, 621 respondents (38 percent) agreed or strongly agreed that “public health has been harmed by agency practices that defer to business interests.”
- 301 respondents (25 percent) had personally experienced, either frequently or occasionally, “situations where corporate interests have forced the withdrawal or significant modification of [an agency] policy or action designed to protect consumers or public health.”
- 266 respondents (24 percent) had personally experienced, either frequently or occasionally, “situations where members of Congress have forced the withdrawal or significant modification of [an agency] policy or action designed to protect consumers or public health.”
- 243 respondents (22 percent) had personally experienced, either frequently or occasionally, “situations where non- governmental interests (such as advocacy groups) have forced the withdrawal or significant modification of [an agency] policy or action designed to protect consumers or public health.”
Scary discouraging stuff.