Protecting the Food Supply

Posted on July 1, 2008  Comments (5)

A few weeks ago we posted about Tracking Down Tomato Troubles as another example of the challenges of scientific inquiry. Too often, in the rare instances that science is even discussed in the news, the presentation provides the illusion of simple obvious answers. Instead it is often a very confusing path until the answers are finally found (posts on scientific investigations in action). At which time it often seems obvious what was going on. But to get to the solutions we need dedicated and talented scientists to search for answers.

Now the CDC is saying tomatoes might not be the source of the salmonella after all: CDC investigates possible non-tomato salmonella sources.

Federal investigators retraced their steps Monday as suspicions mount that fresh unprocessed tomatoes aren’t necessarily causing the salmonella outbreak that has sickened hundreds across the USA.

Three weeks after the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers to avoid certain types of tomatoes linked to the salmonella outbreak, people are still falling ill, says Robert Tauxe with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The latest numbers as of Monday afternoon were 851 cases, some of whom fell ill as recently as June 20, says Tauxe, deputy director of the CDC’s division of foodborne diseases.

The CDC launched a new round of interviews over the weekend. “We’re broadening the investigation to be sure it encompasses food items that are commonly consumed with tomatoes,” Tauxe says. If another food is found to be the culprit after tomatoes were recalled nationwide and the produce industry sustained losses of hundreds of millions of dollars, food safety experts say the public’s trust in the government’s ability to track foodborne illnesses will be shattered.

“It’s going to fundamentally rewrite how we do outbreak investigations in this country,” says Michael Osterholm of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “We can’t let this investigation, however it might turn out, end with just the answer of ‘What caused it?’ We need to take a very in-depth look at foodborne disease investigation as we do it today.”

I am inclined to believe the FDA is not enough focused on food safety. Perhaps we are not funding it enough, but we sure are spending tons of money on something so I can’t believe more money needs to be spent. Maybe just fewer bills passed (that the politicians don’t even bother to read) with favors to special interests instead of funding to support science and food safety. Or perhaps we are funding enough (though I am skeptical of this contention) and we just are not allowing food safety to get in the way of what special interests want (so we fund plenty for FDA to have managed this much better, to have systems in place that would provide better evidence but they are either prevented from doing so or failed to do so). I am inclined to believe special interests have more sway in agencies like (NASA, EPA, FDA…) than the public good and scientific openness – which is very sad. And, it seems to me, politicians have overwhelmingly chosen not to support more science in places like FDA, CDC, NIH… while increasing federal spending in other areas dramatically.

Related: USDA’s failure to protect the food supplyFDA May Make Decision That Will Speed Antibiotic Drug ResistanceFood safety proposal: throw the bums outThe A to Z Guide to Political Interference in Science

5 Responses to “Protecting the Food Supply”

  1. Anonymous
    July 3rd, 2008 @ 1:16 pm

    I feel bad for all the tomato farmers that just lost all that possible income. I hope they find out what food is causing it soon.

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