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Protection of Food Supply Faces Problems

February 12, 2010

HOT PLATE UPDATE

By Bill Whitaker

(CBS)  When it comes to agriculture, America is indeed the land of plenty. Foods raised here and imported from around the world provide greater abundance and choice than ever before. But while our foods are bountiful, they’re also inconsistently regulated.

The U.S. has one of the safest food supplies in the world, but the report card is mixed, reports CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker. Every year 33 percent of Canadians get sick from what they eat. In the U.S., it’s 25 percent. But in England it’s only 2 percent and in France just 1 percent. In both places food is grown more locally and on a smaller scale than in North America.
For part of the CBS News series “Where America Stands,” a recent poll found that just one in three Americans are very confident that the food they buy is safe although the vast majority are at least somewhat confident that their food is safe.

Special Report: “Where America Stands”

Safety always comes first in 12-year-old Rylee Gustafson’s kitchen.
“I need to wash my hands … I touched my jeans,” Gustafson said in her Henderson, Nev., home recently. She, more than anyone, knows that even good food can hurt you. In 2006, on her 9th birthday, she ate a spinach salad and was infected with a virulent strain of e-coli.
“It felt like killer pain, and my organs started to shut down,” Gustafson told Whitaker.
Kathleen Chrismer, Rylee’s mother, told Whitaker that she panicked when she didn’t know what was hurting her daughter.
“You really didn’t think you were going to pull through?” Whitaker asked Gustafson.
“I really felt that bad,” she said.
She spent 35 days in the hospital on dialysis. Today she’s still wary of fresh fruits and vegetables and has a damaged heart, kidney and vocal chords.

The Problem
Her story is just one example of the problem of food safety. Over the last few years, widespread outbreaks in spinach, tomatoes, peppers and peanut products sickened thousands and killed nearly a dozen Americans. Every year there are 76 million cases of foodborne illness in the United States, resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths.

Today Americans consume more fresh produce, increasingly from imports from around the world. But imported produce is inspected even less than home-grown harvests. “Ninety-nine percent of the food that you’re buying at the grocery store that comes from foreign coutnries has not been inspected by the FDA,” said Erik Olson, director of food and consumer product safety at the Pew Charitable Trusts.  Olson says the Food and Drug Administration is simply not up to the task. The FDA is responsible for 80 percent of the food supply, which is everything but meat and poultry.

The number of food producers under FDA jurisdiction has increased, but the number of inspections is going down. Between 2001 and 2007, the number of domestic food producers increased from 51,000 to 65,500. At the same time, the number of producers inspected fell from 14,721 to 14,566, according to the Government Accountability Office.  “They simply do not have the tools to really protect our food supply,” Olson told Whitaker. 

Gustafson traveled to Washington to share her story with members of Congress. She’ll probably need a kidney transplant when she’s a teenager. Until then, she just wants to see this bill pass.  “I would love to see that so people don’t have to take the risk,” Gustafson told Whitaker. “They know that it’s probably not gonna have a bacteria that’s gonna kill you or your child.”  Having safe food, she says, is not too much to ask.

This article may be found in full at:  http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/01/09/eveningnews/main6076565.shtml?tag=contentMain;contentBody

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