rupertmurdoch-frowning-tbi.jpgWhen I got a call last week from a Washington Post reporter that she was about to leave the food safety beat to cover education, I said congratulations until I learned than she would not be replaced. Then came the Tweet from the Dean of Ag reporters, Phil Brasher, that the Des Moines register was closing its D.C. Bureau. Losing two of the best reporters covering Ag and Food Safety issues is stunning–especially during a time when there are far more questions than answers about the safety and sustainability of our food supply. The Farm Bill is on the table and the Food Safety Modernization Act is on the chopping block and the public needs to be informed.

Even before the losses above, the lack of coverage of issues surrounding food safety prompted me to launch Food Safety News nearly two years ago. We have recently added some powerful pens to the needed discussion.

Andrew Schneider has spent his career uncovering secrets that corporations and the government don’t want you to know — often because they could or are hurting you. He broke the story of the asbestos poisoning of Libby, Montana, now infamous as the most deadly environmental disaster in the United States. His reporting led to the criminal indictment of W.R. Grace and some of its top executives — leading to the largest environmental crime case in U.S. history. Schneider also was the first to report that fumes released by heating diacetyl, a butter flavoring used in thousands of consumer products, were destroying the lungs of food factory workers, mom-and-pop confection store owners and chefs across the country.

He documented that seriously ill pilots were being allowed to fly commercial planes because the government looked the other way. He explained why scores of regular people–coal miner’s daughters and cops–were bypassed, and sometimes died, because the organs they were next in line for went to New York diamond merchants and wealthy foreigners. He showed why life flight helicopter rescues sometimes became death flights because competition for patients trumped flight safety. And he disclosed a global honey-laundering network that allows adulterated honey from China to be sold to unsuspecting U.S. consumers. Schneider’s investigative work has been recognized with dozens of journalism awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes.

Ross Anderson is a freelance journalist who writes about food safety as well as Pacific Northwest maritime culture and history. Previously he worked 30 years for the Seattle Times, where he covered politics and environmental issues. Now semi-retired in Port Townsend, Washington, he contributes to Food Safety News.

Ross has won many awards, including the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting which he shared with Times colleagues for coverage of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. More recently his waterfront column for the Port Townsend Leader has won several statewide awards from the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.

Michele Simon will contribute periodic policy pieces for Food Safety News. Michelle is a public health lawyer who has been researching and writing about the food industry and food politics since 1996. She specializes in legal strategies to counter corporate tactics that harm the public’s health. Also an expert in alcohol policy, she is currently research and policy director for the Marin Institute, an alcohol industry watchdog group based in Northern California.

Michele Simon has taught Health Policy at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, and lectures frequently on corporate tactics and policy solutions. She has written extensively on the politics of food, and her first book, “Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back,” was published by Nation Books in 2006.

She has a master’s degree in public health from Yale University and received her law degree from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

And of course we have the “Lois Lane of food safety reporters” in D.C. Helena Bottemiller covers food policy, politics and regulation for Food Safety News from our nation’s capital. A self-described food policy wonk, Helena first delved into the world of food safety while writing her thesis on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration at Claremont McKenna College in Los Angeles. Helena has been featured on BBC World and in USA Today; her work also appears on Civil Eats and Obama Foodorama and is widely cited by mainstream and niche media.

In her daily reporting for Food Safety News, Bottemiller has reported, from the front lines, on the Gulf oil spill, the GE alfalfa Supreme Court case, the half billion Salmonella egg recall, school lunch reform, and the long and winding debate over the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.

The Washington Post and the Des Moines Register are not doing the public or themselves any favors. Andrew, Ross, Michele, Helena, Dan, Mary, Gretchen and the rest of the Food Safety News team will do their best to pick up the slack.

  • dangermaus

    It’s not just food safety. It’s part of the general collapse of the old print advertising model. Easy access to book reviews are another example of a public service that’s simply not getting done as well it was done in the past because there’s no obvious way to make a living doing it when newspapers no longer hire people to do it.

  • Chuck

    The problem arises when newspapers make odd decisions about where to make those necessary cuts. Seems the things that were important years ago are giving away to fluff and nonsense. Those publications that don’t join that stampede and continue to do top quality reporting will be the winners when the smoke clears.

  • Sam

    It’s more difficult to control an educated, informed population. Too bad ignorance doesn’t induce physical pain, it just causes republican votes. Then the republicans spread the pain around to all who can least afford it. Welcome to the new world order, comrades.

  • Walt

    Looks like Marler Clark should leap into the breach and increase their food safety journalism activities. Or maybe there won’t be much to report as the republicans are seeking to reduce the budgets for food safety inspections by FDA and FSIS.

  • Doc Mudd

    Maybe Rupert is onto something, here. For what seems like an eternity, loopy anti-progress activists have believed if they repeat nonsense often enough and chant loud enough it will magically become true. Maybe if we stop reporting the truth, it will go away and leave us alone to better absorb activist nonsense.

  • Minkpuppy

    dangermaus and Chuck are both right. Most young adults now get their news online so there is less readership of print journalism and no money in it anymore. Why hire someone to write a review or an article on food safety when you can just link to a blog about it? Also, in order to appeal to the young adults, the news outlets focus on their interests and discard the real news.
    It’s frustrating and twisted. One of our local TV stations has now switched to a TMZ-like news program and it’s totally bizarre. The news is condensed into rapidly successive sound bites complete with corny comments. Oddly, this station carries more actual news than the other local TV outlets. It’s a sad commentary on our society I think.

  • Walt

    Yes, journalism, especially electronic reporting, is in a sad state of affairs. Blogs might be analogous to talk radio shows where the public calls in. Occasionally you get some good info or an interesting point of view but mostly it’s rants, misinformation, and faulty logic.