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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

The FDA lays an Egg, well actually 550,000,000 of them

fdaidiot.jpgI spend a lot of time supporting the FDA and the need for more resources. Come on FDA, please give me a little bit of help here. Willy Neuman and the New York Times crack another story about the seemingly error prone FDA in today’s story, “Oop! F.D.A. Error Is Talk of Henhouse.”

According to Neuman, apparently. “[a] delay in sending safety inspectors to egg farms after this summer’s salmonella outbreak and egg recall can be traced in part to a parking mistake outside a pair of Pennsylvania henhouses, according to industry executives and state government officials.”

Well, that is “eggasperating.” Here is the rest of the sad story of “eggo” and “eggcompetence:”

Marilyn F. Balmer, a top egg expert for the Food and Drug Administration, was training inspectors in July to enforce the agency’s new egg safety rule when she parked the van she was driving near a henhouse at a farm in Manheim, Pa. She did it again during another session at a farm in Lancaster. Ms. Balmer was in Pennsylvania to teach inspectors about how to keep germs away from poultry flocks, known as biosecurity. But the industry executives and state officials said she was breaking a basic biosecurity rule: keep vehicles, which may have driven through manure on rural roads or other farms, as far from the hens as possible.

At the Manheim farm, although the biosecurity breach was mentioned to Ms. Balmer, the van stayed where it was, according to a Pennsylvania state egg official, Kim Kennedy Barnham, who attended the training. In Lancaster, when Ms. Balmer was asked by the farm owner there, James Charles, to move the van, she refused. Finally, after Ms. Kennedy Barnham and an F.D.A. employee intervened, Ms. Balmer allowed the van to be moved.

But that was not all. Later in the day, Ms. Balmer and another instructor got into a heated argument in front of the trainees, according to egg industry executives briefed on the matter.

Ms. Balmer declined to comment.

All of that prompted the F.D.A. to re-evaluate the training program, contributing to a delay in preparing the inspectors to enforce the new safety rule. The rule went into effect July 12, but inspections began only last week at farms not involved in the recall.

The F.D.A. sent letters apologizing to Mr. Charles and the other Pennsylvania farmer (neither of whom were connected to the recall, which involved only eggs from Iowa). “Our employees’ disrespectful behavior was unprofessional and is a breach of good manners and our expectations,” the letters said.

Jeff Farrar, the head of food protection at the F.D.A., said the inspections were on track. “We are ready, we’re inspecting farms, we’re fully trained,” Mr. Farrar said. He would not identify Ms. Balmer by name, but said the person involved in the parking incident had been removed from the training program.

The first stop for the new round of inspections was Maine, where inspectors last week visited farms owned by Austin J. DeCoster, according to the farmer, who owns most of the Iowa farms that produced the recalled eggs.

Ms. Balmer’s parking problems were the talk of egg farmers across the country, many of them skittish over damage to the industry caused by the recall and anxious about F.D.A. inspectors coming onto their farms. Dr. Nan Hanshaw, the chief of animal and poultry health for the Pennsylvania agriculture department, said the dust-up might have an upside.

“It’s a good training tool,” she said, “to actually show someone what not to do.”

  • Bill Anderson

    So how long is it going to take you to figure out that germo-phobia is a formula for disease and illness?
    Do we have to sicken half of the American population with industrial food production?
    Two thirds?
    Three quarters?
    Hens on pasture naturally have a balanced micro-eco-system, where the right bacteria thrive and the wrong ones are kept at bay.
    Yet here we see in your literature above, utter paranioa about germs.
    “Bio-security”? Give me a break! The best bio-security we can have is a robust, diversified, sustainable, locally based food system — everything the FDA and “food safety” fanatics dismiss as ludite and backwards!
    I’m all for food safety. But the first thing we need to understand is that food safety does not come through rigid government standards and scientific hubris. It comes through a healthy, balanced, local, and ecological approach to food production.

  • Thanks, Bill.
    So much for “experts”…or is an expert with “egg on her face” an “egg-spurt?”
    I’m struck by Ms. Balmer’s arrogance despite the willingness of others to make her aware of her faux pas. All she had to do was use it as a teaching opportunity. I’m reminded of when Michael Taylor failed to do that here in NC and then mislead Commissioner Hamburg into an error at the 10-22-09 Senate HELP Committee hearing on S 510.
    And I contrast it with your willingness, Bill, to turn it into a teaching moment. When admitted, we generally learn a lot more from screw ups than we do from good performances.
    Finally, and most importantly, a SMALL farmer would have to be very brave to say something to an inspector in a situation like that because doing so carries the substantial risk of terrible retaliation. Just ask John Munsell.
    That’s why there must be clear accountability when an inspector screws up. I wonder what will be the repercussion to Ms. Balmer’s career.
    And congrats to whomever had the photo idea…or is that a real FDA van? : -)

  • Sam

    “Fully trained”? I have yet to meet an FDA inspector who was qualified to perform the inspections they were tasked with.

  • I find the whole story very interesting and funny. I agree with Dr. Nan Hanshaw view that ” it’s a good training tool to actually show someone what not to do.”