The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

More is rotten than tomatoes

Jul 14, 2008

More than 1,000 people in the U.S. and Canada have recently been infected with a rare strain of salmonella, a bacteria that causes nausea and diarrhea. As of early July, two deaths were blamed on problems associated with this particular strain.

After the first cases became known in April, government officials blamed tomatoes. But even as the food industry let tomato crops rot in the fields, more people became sick with salmonella.

Today the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) admits it has not found the rare strain of salmonella on any of the tomatoes it tested, nor on the jalapeZo peppers and cilantro it’s been able to test.

No matter whether or when the FDA figures out what caused this dangerous illness, it has become clear that the food chain has become a source of contaminants. Salmonella is not the only problem: recently some meat was taken off the market by the Agriculture Department because it carried another dangerous bacteria, E-coli.

Fresh food comes from many thousands of sources within the United States, not counting food that is imported. Yet responsibility for checking that it is safe is split between two different government departments, Food and Drug, for fresh and canned foods, and Agriculture for meat and poultry.

Crazy – and guaranteed to make sure no one is responsible for food safety!

In addition, the population has grown by more than 40% in the last 30 years, so that there are more farms, more stores, more restaurants. Yet the number of food inspections and inspectors has dropped. In the 1970s, according to the Center on Food Safety, there were 50,000 inspections a year concerning food safety. In recent years, the number of inspections has dropped to 10,000 a year.

For more than 300 million people in this supposedly very advanced country, eating is a lot like playing Russian roulette. Watch out – that tomato may be loaded!