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The 2011 Food Safety News Naughty and Nice List

Opinion

For the third consecutive Christmas season, Food Safety News presents its annual Naughty and Nice List. Like all such lists, this one exists to help Santa decide what everybody should get.

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Anyone who’s been naughty about food safety deserves something far worse in their stocking than a lump of coal. The nice should fare better, even if it is just a pat on the back.

Without further delay, here’s my N&N for 2011:

NAUGHTY

Daniel G. Jarcho, the former government attorney assigned to handle the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), now represents Del Monte Fresh Produce.  He’s the one who got an import alert lifted for Guatemalan-grown cantaloupes, months after melons from the same farm were blamed for a 10-state outbreak of Salmonella Panama that sickened 20 people.

The K Street lawyer claimed the FDA could not close the U.S. border to any imported food without a positive genetic test showing contamination, leaving consumers to wonder if the FDA was given proof that conditions that led to the outbreak were cleaned up.

NICE

Dr. Elisabeth A. Hagen, the Under Secretary for Food Safety, made the gutsy decision to declare six more dangerous strains of E. coli as adulterants in meat.

For the first time since 1994, when E. coli O157:H7 became the first pathogenic E. coli to be banned from meat, Hagen acted to add six more serotypes (O26, O103, O45, O111, O121 and O145) to the verboten list.

The six additional toxin-producing E. coli strains are responsible for more than 36,000 illnesses, 1,100 hospitalizations and 30 deaths in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

NAUGHTY

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-MI, is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and its powerful Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.  With its own investigative resources, this is the arm of Congress most responsible for food safety.

Its bipartisan investigations and hearings birthed the new FDA Food Safety Modernization Act passed by the last Congress. But not even the most deadly outbreak of foodborne illness in the U.S., or the devastating outbreak of a rare E. coli strain in Germany, could get Upton interested in food safety.

Being naughty along with Upton was Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-FL, who chairs the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

NICE

Mike Taylor, deputy Food and Drug Administration Commissioner for Food, is this administration’s go-to guy for information on the FDA’s implementation of the new Food Safety Modernization Act. The access and insights he has provided in 2011 would be enough alone to put him on the Nice List.

However, it was the release of his oral history and interview with Food Safety News, about his past government service when he was administrator of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service during the Clinton Administration, that won our appreciation. He recalled the events surrounding his decision to first ban O157 from meat in 1994 — which he announced at a meeting of the American Meat Institute. Nice Mike!

NAUGHTY 

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-MN, is seeking the nomination to be her party’s candidate for President. With the media she visited the Amend Packing Co. in Des Moines, wielded a knife to cut some red meat and verbally slashed the federal government for over-regulating such businesses.

She claimed one of six Amend employees was a meat inspector paid for by the company.  That may be true, Amends is a small family-owned operation apparently under state regulation. What Rep. Bachmann did not acknowledge is that Iowa would probably tip into recession if federal meat inspectors — who are paid by taxpayers, not the meat industry — lost their jobs.   

NICE

Barbara Cassens, director of FDA’s San Francisco district, sometimes has to find a diplomatic way to tell the truth. In a year when the role and performance of the third-party auditing industry was again called into question, this time over the outbreak caused by contaminated cantaloupes from a Colorado farm recently audited, Cassens took questions at a Produce Marketing Association meeting.

Asked if FDA is going to rely on third-party auditors, she responded: “We are leaning in that direction. Working out that program is a matter of understanding what principles apply, and how we audit the auditors. The fundamental question is, does it provide another level of safety? If it doesn’t, it’s not time well spent.”

NAUGHTY

Randy Spronk, president of the National Pork Producers Council, stepped into it February when he opted to respond to “A Manifesto for the Future,” written by Mark Bittman, food columnist for the New York Times. Bittman’s thought-provoking piece covered the waterfront with reform ideas, including his often-stated opposition to so-called concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.

Spronk jumped on that, sending a letter to the editor that included this line:  ”Yes, there were a couple of highly publicized manure spills involving hog farms in the mid-1990s.” Until then, probably 99 percent of New York Times readers did not know “concentrated animal feeding operations” are hog farms that spill manure. Now that’s naughty!

NICE

Dr. William Keene is senior state epidemiologist for Oregon. He was one of several state epidemiologists who investigated a Salmonella Panama outbreak traced to Del Monte Fresh Produce cantaloupes from Guatemala.

Later, Del Monte Fresh Produce apparently decided a takedown of the entire science of epidemiology was necessary to get its Guatemalan cantaloupes off the import alert list.

In doing so, it lodged a scurrilous complaint against Dr. Keene. Others, like Dr. Tim Jones, Tennessee state epidemiologist, came to his defense, calling out Del Monte Fresh Produce’s tactics as an attempt to put a “chilling effect” on the work of public health agencies.

Oregon’s ethics board quickly dismissed the complaint against Keene as groundless. The fruit company’s real goal, many thought, was to get a standard set in which the only justification for an import alert is a positive test for product contamination.

NAUGHTY

David E. Gumpert is an author, journalist and raw milk advocate. A Food Safety News contributor, he makes sensible points about the regulation of raw milk, relative to other risky foods.

But early in 2011 some of his remarks on the stump went over the top. “As far as I can tell, we are at war,” Gumpert told raw milk advocates protesting outside FDA headquarters in Virginia.

Raw milk advocates should be able to make their case in this country’s legislative halls. They will accomplish nothing by going to the guns with inflammatory rhetoric, and Gumpert knows that. To say otherwise is naughty.

NICE

U.S. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-VT, chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.   

From shortly after the 2009 Salmonella outbreak involving peanut butter and peanut paste, which sickened 700 people and killed nine, Leahy has kept pressure on the Justice Department to prosecute those responsible.

He renewed that call on Feb. 22, 2011 in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, writing: “I hope that there has been
a thorough criminal investigation into PCA’s conduct at the least, and if appropriate, criminal charges are aggressively pursued.”

Leahy again pointed out that Peanut Corporation of American “knowingly distributed potentially contaminated peants for use in hundreds of different food products even after samples tested positive for salmonella more than a dozen times in the two years before the outbreak.” While it’s unlikely the AG will ever respond, it’s nice of Leahy to keep asking.

NAUGHTY

Minnesota State Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City,  won easy approval of a bill prohibiting civil actions against retail outlets like McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King for weight gain resulting from eating fast food. But more naughty than that — the bill also says companies that manufacture, distribute or sell food or nonalcoholic beverages have civil immunity unless a violation is “knowing and willful.”

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the measure. He said he’d be willing to sign legislation that states individuals are responsible for their own dietary choices. However, he said the Urdahl bill went too far with its overly broad exemption from liability.  

NICE

Kathleen Merrigan, deputy Secretary of Agriculture, runs much of the sprawling USDA, which has more people and functions than most of us can image. Just when many feared on-the-farm food safety would be forgotten, Merrigan pulled a new one from her bag of programs.   

The On-Farm Food Safety Program is a nice way for USDA to end the year.  The new online tool is available for farmers to use without charge and is an easy way to learn how to mitigate on-farm safety risks.

NAUGHTY

James Dilorio is the subcontractor working for Primus Labs who conducted the audit of the Jensen Farms packinghouse in Granada, CO on July 25, 2011. The audit, according to the report, took four hours and 20 minutes. Primus gave Jensen Farms a grade of 96 out of a possible 100.

Before the year was out, cantaloupes processed by that facility were said to be responsible for the most deadly outbreak of foodborne illness in 100 years.

NICE

Eldon Roth is founder and chief executive officer of Dakota Dunes, SD-based Beef Products Inc., which in 1998 became the first company in the beef industry to test for E. coli O157:H7 and hold meat until the results were in.

In mid-2011, BPI continued to lead the beef industry by also testing for six non-O157 strains of E. coli known as the Big Six. It did so before the Under Secretary for Food Safety made her decision to ban those strains from ground beef.  

Just as nice is Craig Wilson, food safety director at Costco. He led the retail giant to implement the same testing policy. Because of Roth and Wilson, business acted ahead of government, and the public was safer for it.

NAUGHTY

Beth Sparboe Schnell is owner of Sparboe Farms, one of the nation’s largest shell egg producers and a main supplier to the likes of McDonald’s and Target Stores. With egg farms in Minnesota, Iowa and Colorado, the company touted its “highest quality egg products,” produced where “safety is Number One” following “science-based animal welfare guidelines.”

Then an undercover video from an animal rights group surfaced, along with poor inspection reports. Sparboe lost its big customers, and was left trying to figure.

NICE

Leonard Downie Jr. is the Weil Family Professor of Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Arizona State University.

A former executive editor who spent 44 years at the Washington Post, Downie coordinated this year’s “How Safe Is Your Food?” seminar and project for the Carnegie-Knight News21 program, led by William Marimow and Jody Brannon. Their talented group of students, including many who are experienced journalists, produced some outstanding work as part of the 2011 Food Safety Project that we were honored to publish after the stories ran in the Washington Post and on msnbc.com.

NAUGHTY

Michael Schmidt is a Canadian raw-milk farmer who went on a five-week hunger strike, vowing to “go unto death” until Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty met briefly with him on Nov. 4 to discuss Canada’s ban on the sale of unpasteurized milk. Although a spokesman said McGinty has no plans to change Canada’s raw-milk policy, the premier suggested Schmidt lobby members of Parliament to see if there is support for overturning the ban.

Schmidt says his protest caused him to lose 50 pounds. On Nov. 25, he was convicted on 13 charges related to the sale and distribution of unpasteurized milk and cheese, and operating a plant without a license. He was fined $9,150 and put on probation. Now he is appealing the convictions.

NICE

U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-WI, was food safety’s guardian angel in 2011.

At a time when there was lot at stake for food safety, with the need to really bump up the FDA’s budget to effectively implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, as well as to  avoid cuts to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, Kohl was there.

He has kept funding levels for both FDA and FSIS higher than those offered by the House, and has proved to be an effective advocate just when food safety needed one.

© Food Safety News
  • Rick

    Not a political wind in the air of this list… eh?
    Makes one not trust the list or writer.

  • jmunsell

    Not only is FSIS’ Dr. Elisabeth Hagen NICE, she is also an aggressive, pro-active formulator of new policies which have the capability of rennovating the agency’s less-than-superlative policies. If she can overcome the agency’s historical reluctance to implement meaningful policy changes, public health may indeed be blessed. Only time will tell if Dr. Hagen’s desire to require common sense will override legal concerns at the agency. John Munsell

  • Hugh

    I agree with Rick about the trust factor here. A direct quote from an article pertaining to his claim is: “But Bachmann focused in on federal regulation, noting that the six-person staff of Amend includes one employee devoted to compliance with federal food-safety regulations.” My personal interpretation for this line is that the company has to employ a full time person, for example a full time QA Manager just to cover the regulatory stuff, that might otherwise not have to be there if the regulatory burden wasn’t so heavy. Bachman blotches enough speeches without someone having to misinterpret what she says. Given, the statement can be open to other interpretations but to say this small company employs “…a meat inspector paid for by the company” is downright fiction on the part of this author. Also, I know first hand this small plant is under federal inspection as well as state inspection (they do a lot of work for the community’s HUSH program for the less fortunate).

  • doc raymond

    Republicans Naughty, Democrats Nice it seems. But all in all a very nice list. However, I would disagree slightly where you say the House Energy and Commerce Committee with its sub-committee on Investigations is the most powerful food safety committee. I testified many times in front of that Committee and I don’t think anything constructive came from those days. However, the House Appropriations Committee does control much of food safety by its ability to direct where and how funds are spent, and how much is available to FSIS.
    And for clarity on the Iowa meat plant. If they are under State inspection, the inspector is still paid with state and federal funds, not plant dollars.

  • Sharon Zecchinelli

    I must live in an alternate universe from Dan. So many nieces on this list that are naughty in my world. Not just naughty but reprehensible.

  • Alan

    The FDA’s intent is to wipe out raw milk. I would say that “war” is not overstating the issue in the case of Gumpert. How do you play “nice” with an agency that openly says it will wipe you out if it can?

  • Steve

    As with any list like this it depends on how you spin it.
    Take Mr Nice Guy, Michael Taylor, for instance. I’d say we really have to get a good look at the FSMA regulatory proposals, perhaps due out in January, before heaping credit. And talk about spin, he’s been through the government-industry revolving door — in positions to further the Monsanto agenda — enough times to make anyone’s head spin…
    Here’s a little more history to go along with his oral one:
    As a lawyer, Michael Taylor began his governmental career in the late 1980′s as a legal advisor to the Commissioner of FDA. He then moved to a private-sector law firm representing Monsanto. In 1991 he returned to the FDA as Deputy Commissioner for Policy, where he was part of the team that issued the agency’s industry-friendly policy on food biotechnology and that approved the use of Monsanto’s genetically engineered bovine growth hormone in dairy cows. In 1994 he revolved back to the law firm leading a group a lawyers representing Monsanto. Then he moved to USDA to become administrator of its Food Safety and Inspection Service …
    After another stint in private legal practice, Mr. Taylor again joined Monsanto as Vice President for Public Policy in 1998 as Monsanto’s chief lobbyist to work his former colleagues at USDA and FDA, as well as Congress. Then back to being a Monsanto lawyer. In 2010 he was appointed Deputy Commissioner in charge of food safety at FDA where he is today…

  • Joshua Hawk

    I think that this article states the point clearly, food regulation and those who push it are the nice people, and those that don’t are the naughty. Some might say the list is “one sided” and I admitt that it might seem like a little biased of an opinion in this piece, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Just because the list conincides with party lines is not the fault of the author, it is a problem with the machines that are making them. And as with any list sure we could find particular cases of bad judgement by some of the people rendered “nice” by the author, but the “naughty” people have been exactly that. (30 yr old, independent white male from nothern Indiana)

  • http://www.EcoReality.org Jan Steinman

    I have to agree with @Joshua Hawk, but would like to re-phrase it a bit: this article states the point clearly that those who believe in personal responsibility and personal liberty and local food sovereignty are naughty, and those who believe in the nanny state and government-corporate control of everything are nice.
    Must it be “either/or?” Why can’t there be room for those who wish to seek out and consume raw milk or farm-butchered meat? Must everything be reduced to government regulation in a “one size fits all” system? Should the farmer down the road be treated the same as Monsanto or Maple Leaf Meats?
    My own “naughty or nice” list would run along those lines: “naughty” are the corporatistas who insist on an insane “one size fits all” regulatory approach, and “nice” are those who push for legal alternatives to the corporate food system, along with accepting personal responsibility for their own health and safety when they do so.
    (I’m surprised epidemiologist Dr. Ted Beals didn’t make the “naughty” list for his brilliant analysis of US CDC data that shows you are more likely to be struck by lightening than to be sickened by raw milk. It sure puts perspective on a topic that has become polarized into an insane insistence on zero risk! You are more likely to be killed in the drive to pick up your raw milk than you are to be sickened by drinking it!)

  • http://www.traditionalhardcorecook.com Sarah

    Gumpert’s statement is “inflammatory rhetoric”? Really? So, those guns they bring to raid small family farms and raw milk clubs are just decorations?

  • nancy

    Mike Taylor as NICE? Hmmmm Monsanto exec…..FSN is part of the establishment thinking it’s ok to push genetically modified phoods!
    I agree with Jan on the raw milk issue and David Gumpert & Ted Beals.
    “Wide is the road that leads to destruction, narrow is the road that leads to life and few find it.” Jesus said this. It can apply physically as well and all the folks who are FSN groupies are on the wide road.

  • Michael Schmidt

    I am honored and glad I was not on the nice list considering who is part of it.
    Yes the world is upside down

  • Michael Schmidt

    I am honored and glad I was not on the nice list considering who is part of it.
    Yes the world is upside down.
    Actually I take that back, there are good people on the nice list.
    We just need to be able to get on the same page, which we did here

  • Stephen

    notice that all the nice people are either in the USDA/FDA or have a D next to their names. naughty people are the ones that say people should make up their own minds about what and how they consume products. As a producer or raw milk in a state that bans the sale of it, think that anyone no matter what political party or or how many letters some college put after your name, anyone who puts thrusts their views on someone else with no real evidence of how something is produced or handled should not only be put on the naughty list but should keep their bloody mouths shut

  • Andy

    What an awful list. Michael Schmidt on the Naughty side? Yeah right.

  • Jack Moore

    I am a heart attack survivor seeking the truth about nutrition and health. An important part of my solution is purchase of raw dairy and grassfed meats direct from farmers I know and trust. The raw dairy supplier sells most of his farm products to my buying group. As consumers we are linked through a Yahoo Group, and the farmer knows that. This form of accountability provides better food safety protection than anything the government will ever be able to provide through regulation and inspection. And it costs the taxpayers $0!!