I am still here in DC about to head to this morning’s sessions on FSIS’s attempt to deal with E. coli in our meat supply. As I said to the group yesterday, I impressed that the FSIS, CDC and the industry are addressing many of the food safety challenges we are facing today. The agenda is ambitious; to explore the challenges of addressing E. coli O157:H7, including illness and recall trends; to discuss FSIS’s plans to begin a short-term study to determine the extent to which non-O157 STECs may be present in FSIS-regulated products; and, to discuss the evidence that may support a determination that raw beef products such as primal cuts and boxed beef contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 are adulterated. This is ambitious, but important.
Although busy, I still had the time to do a hat-trick (A hat-trick in sports is associated with succeeding at anything three times in three consecutive attempts) of sorts in the media yesterday. I spoke to Andrew Schneider of the Seattle-PI:
Seattle lawyer and food safety expert William Marler was asked to testify before the panel and he agreed that the downturn in illnesses and recalls from 1994 to 2004 was too good to be true.
As I told Nancy Luna of the OC Register:
In 2006, Seattle food safety attorney Bill Marler advised produce packers and growers to look at the beef sector for tips on reducing food borne illness outbreaks.
At the time, a series of E. coli outbreaks had rocked the industry – sickening more than 200 people who ate tainted spinach or lettuce. In the meantime, the beef industry, plagued in the 1990s by similar food scares, had made great strides in reducing food poisoning cases.
Now, the pendulum has swung.
Since 2007, federal health officials have documented 67 beef recalls, up from eight in 2006. At least 20 recalls are linked to E. coli tainted meat.
"It’s not a pretty picture," Marler said of the recent spate of beef recalls. "I wonder if they took their eye off the ball."
The Seattle Times ran a few words yesterday as well:
Seattle attorney Bill Marler is suing Organic Pastures, the nation’s largest organic raw milk dairy, on behalf of two children who fell ill after consuming its products. Testing at the dairy farm near Fresno, Calif., did not detect the strain of E. coli that sickened the children, but a government report said the dairy was likely responsible. Marler, who has sued other dairies as well, criticized states for bowing to pressure from farmers and allowing raw milk sales to go on – legally or not.
"My worry is that as it becomes more acceptable and becomes more commercialized, you know, it will reach a critical mass where all of the sudden you’re going to get a whole bunch of little kids poisoned," Marler said. "And then everybody will throw up their arms and go, ‘Whoa, we’ve got to stop this, we’ve got to pasteurize.’"
And, as Mark the Defendant said:
"They have never found a pathogen in our raw milk since we opened in 2000," dairy owner Mark McAfee said. But properly produced raw milk does contain bacteria that "help rebuild immune systems," he added.