Trying to Stop Pathogens with Handcuffs

Last year, cantelopes grown on a Colorado farm and sold at Walmart sickened hundreds of people.  Thirty three of those people died.  The culprit was listeria, a pathogen that is more commonly associated with dairy products than fresh produce.  It turns out that the farm used a system to wash the melons that would have allowed them to be contaminated.  (Note: TFF does not wash its melons)

Federal investigators found the farm to be liable, its two owners negligent and responsible for the illnesses and deaths.  The farm is closed and the owners are now bankrupt.  It’s fair to say that the farmers involved have no business growing food for humans.  As a business owner, one is responsible for knowing all the potential risks that your product poses to consumers, and take all necessary action to prevent that risk. The farmers failed to do this.

Apparently, though, someone at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided it wasn’t enough just to be sure that those farmers would never again farm.  Last week, federal officials arrested them and brought them to court, in handcuffs and leg shackles, to face criminal charges that they allowed contaminated food to cross state lines.  If convicted they will go to jail.  Nothing in the report of the investigation suggests that the farmers knew the melons were contaminated.

I can easily understand that people who lost loved ones might want to punish those responsible.  But I wonder, would the FDA have treated the CEO of Dole — the biggest fruit producer in the world — as if he were a violent criminal if the cantelopes had been produced by that immensely powerful corporation instead of by a small family farm.  Probably not.  No criminal charges were filed two  years ago against the large corporation that was responsible for the contaminated peanut butter that was produced in clearly unsanitary facility.

If the FDA really wanted to prevent microbes on fresh produce from making people sick, they would be helping farmers — especially small family farmers with limited resources — by funding research on new technologies and providing funding to implement practices to address the challenges.  Instead, they are putting shackles on bankrupt farmers and creating a climate of fear, as if this will somehow prevent microbes from making people sick.  It will not, and the FDA knows this.

Meanwhile, large corporations in our country are manufacturing and selling food that doctors, nutritionists and researchers have clearly proven make people sick and eventually kill them.  They develop additives and enhancers that make people eat even more of this food, and the FDA approves them.

Please forgive me for not caring much if the corrupt and ineffective FDA is closed this week due to the shutdown of the federal government.  It deserves to be closed permanently.




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