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North Carolina Mom Sues County Fair After Son Part of E. coli O157:H7 Outbreak

Amie Westfall is suing the Cleveland County Fair in Shelby, North Carolina after her 18-month-old son Dominic suffered from a severe E. coli infection as part of last month’s outbreak tied to the fair’s petting zoo, Circle G Ranch.

According to the North Carolina Department of Health, there were 106 reported illnesses and 1 death connected to the petting zoo and investigators believe animal exposure was the likely source of the bacteria, according to the complaint filed this week by food safety law firm Marler Clark (underwriter of Food Safety News).

The suit also points to rain runoff that could have helped spread the bacteria to other areas of the fair grounds, exacerbating the outbreak.

Dominic’s infection developed into Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), which causes severe injury to the kidney. He was hospitalized for several days and the suit says he is still “suffering from the aftereffects of his illness.”

The complaint says the plaintiffs are seeking at least $10,000 in damages. In a blog post last week, food safety lawyer Bill Marler (publisher of Food Safety News) noted that the firm is doing the case pro bono and is asking the local attorneys on the case to do the same.

In the wake of dozens of serious outbreaks linked to petting zoos, Marler believes fairs and petting zoos need to step up their health precautions, or even consider banning petting zoos. “How many of these outbreaks have to happen until WE rethink what WE are exposing our kids to?” he asked on Marler Blog last week.

© Food Safety News
  • I think banning is the only way forward. There are just too many factors that make it almost impossible to protect against outbreak. 

    Even if you do supply a good cleaning station and good warning about the importance of cleanliness, kids always manage to find some reason to stick their fingers in their mouths before washing. 

    And what’s the purpose of a petting zoo? If it’s to explain agriculture, then let’s demonstrate agriculture. You won’t find many people who raise livestock for the table petting their cows or sheep. 

  • mjv64

    Why don’t we just ban everything and live in a giant bubble? Parents need to step up and supervise their kids and wash their hands for them if we are talking about a 18 month old. Is it parents responsibility to teach our kids good hygenic habits? Then she should sue herself for failing the task. It’s a county fair, people, use your common sense.

    • And why don’t we demonstrate to children the reality of livestock care, rather than this little pretend lovefest with cute little lambs and bunnies? 

      Children also need to learn that they can appreciate animals without having to pet them. There’s no real reason for a petting zoo, at county farms or elsewhere. We can educate to children without pandering to them. 

      • susanrudnicki

         What a cynical, scathing characterization of human relationship with the other living beings we are share the planet with!   Ms Powers, YOUR “reality” is yours, and others just may have a different “reality”   Current culture encourages humans to have a corporate, CAFO defined “reality” to “livestock” and the profit motive is the underpinning of that model.   Your perspective is not the first to find print, for this typical attitude of objectification and distancing is fundamental to ignorance and uncaring—-just what Big Ag is advocating, for their self-serving reasons.              I believe Mark Twain’s pithy remark is apt—“it is just like man’s vanity and impertinence to call a animal dumb because it is dumb to his dull perceptions”  

  • Susan Rudnicki

    This is really a sad development in the “modern” world.   Most kids are lucky if they get to have time cuddling a cat or dog, but who knows—maybe that is soon to be “banned” too.   Unfortunately, the more we shield kids from encounters that challenge the immune system, the weaker that system is becoming.   At the same time, the proliferation of background exposure to chemicals like fire retardants (carpet, upholstry, drapery, clothing, furniture) glues, plastics, coatings of all sorts, cleaners, pesticides, etc. leads to  bioaccumlation and synergenicity  reactions.    Still, our chemical industry is allowed all kind of leniency in bringing more of the stuff to market, and only when a huge number of lives are flagrantly harmed and a class action lawsuit filed is the industry held accountable.    The Precautionary Principle is greatly needed here, as is used in Europe 
        The “purpose” of a petting zoo is to allow children to interact with farm animals they may never encounter in any other way.   The animals I grew up with—horses, chickens, goats, pigs, reptiles, dogs, cats and rabbits—were not walking E. coli factories.   Life is full of risk.     I suggest we focus on the big stuff

    • Life is full of risks, but that’s no reason to encourage risk exposure. 

      If we want kids to learn about livestock, then let’s show them livestock in action, and in reality. Livestock isn’t about petting the little lambs and bunnies. 

      We can educate children without having to put them at risk. And they will be at risk: kids don’t live on farms. That ‘small exposure’ is enough to kill them. 

  • oldcowvet

    Wrong Shelly.  Many farmers will name their animals, and then sent them away for you know what.  Many of my clients can list teh family tree of their cows, by name, and then calmly send them away.  they are just grown up about it.

    • A petting zoo is not a demonstration of agriculture. It’s just a way to provide something for bored kids to do–and encourage parents to attention fairs/zoos/etc. 

      What do kids really learn about animals or farming with a brief cuddle with a lamb, goat, or bunny? 

      No, it makes no sense to continue having these–not with the very real risks of serious illness. 

  • Kids don’t live on farms?  Seriously? Every “farm” isn’t a factory farm. Kids do indeed live on family farms and play with farm animals. I’m 48 and I pick up and pet my chickens all of the time. I played with and petted the goats and cows we had when I was a child. Even had a pony that I cared for and rode. And guess what? I handled feces ALL THE TIME and never contracted E.coli.

    Apparently, before we educate the kids, we need to start with adults.

    • I assumed the context of the story and thread would be enough to make my comment understandable. I stand corrected. 

      Kids that go to petting zoos at fairs or elsewhere typically are not farm kids. Kids not raised on farms have had little exposure to farm animals. They are at increased risk. 

  • Have you ever been to a farm? It certainly doesn’t sound like it.

    You DO realize that you come into contact with fecal matter on door handles, subway straps, staircase rails and every other publicly located object that humans touch, right? People have dogs and cats in their homes. Dogs lick their behinds and then lick their humans, children included, in the face. Banning petting zoos, county fairs, circuses or other places there are animals is not the answer. The answer is the parents taking personal responsibility for their kids and carrying hand sanitizer or making sure they wash their hands.



    • No, it just sounds like I’m not into parroting what you believe. What can I say? Life is full of little disappointments. 

      People have to live in the everyday world and we hope parents and other authority figures teach their children good hygienic habits. But petting zoos have many things wrong with them, including the fact that many of them are as unhealthy for the young animals, as they are for the children. If we want children to understand what farm life is like, then they need to go to the farm. And if we want them to understand the food chain, we better ensure they have time to visit a CAFO and a meat processing plant, too. And where did you get banning circuses from this discussion? Restricting exotic animal acts in circuses isn’t ‘banning’ circuses. Again, it’s an effort to eliminate barbaric inhumane practices created specifically for human entertainment. Well, torturing an animal isn’t my idea of fun. 

      If we want to teach our kids anything, how about starting with compassion, empathy, and responsibility to critters and the planet? Wow, what a novel thing to do. 

  • Why don’t you scale back your attitude just a tad. 

    If your interest is in helping animals, then you may want to reserve your umbrage for people who abuse animals, not people who fight for animal welfare. 

    This will be the last time I respond to anything you say, because I don’t think one can have a good discussion with someone whose knees never stop jerking. 

    • Susan Rudnicki

       Please, let me be the first to spare you from the need to diagnose my attitudinal problems.   Whenever someone disagrees with your personal characterizations, you resort to sanctimonious name calling and defining what constitutes “good discussion”  

  • Susan Rudnicki

     It is interesting that you avoid commenting on Judy’s observations of dogs and cats and other pets in homes—

    You DO realize that you come into contact with fecal matter on door
    handles, subway straps, staircase rails and every other publicly located
    object that humans touch, right? People have dogs and cats in their
    homes. Dogs lick their behinds and then lick their humans, children
    included, in the face.

    Everyone in real life encounters these immune system stressors, but it seems you fail to acknowledge these remarks as the evidence is inconvenient for your arguement.   Kids eat dirt on the playground, at the beach, and crawl around on floors and walkway surfaces everywhere.   Maybe you have never had any….   But the idea that you must keep a child from contact with the microbes of everyday life is absurd, and not even in their best interests.

  • This ‘sue happy’ nation needs to take a reality check. 
    How many times has this ranch had the petting zoo over the years and how many
    incidents of infection have there been during that time?

    I’ve been unfortunate enough to have gotten several varieties of food borne illnesses
    over the years and although not fun or ‘nothing’ by any stretch of the
    imagination, they were caught and treated quickly and no long lasting effects
    have been suffered. 

    The first thing I did in each instance was ask:  How long has this business
    been doing this and how many other instances of illness have there been during
    that time?

    In all but one instance, my illness was the first in decades, so I just
    contacted the establishment and we settled things over the phone.  In the
    instance that my illness seemed to be one of many recent ones, I reported the
    establishment but did not sue.  The authorities closed the business
    because of repeated violations and illnesses.

    The next reality check question I would ask is:  How many times have you
    or yours gotten sick from food prepared or cooked at home, at family members or
    neighbor’s homes?  How many have these neighborhood and family pets have
    caused an illness to you or a loved one?   Just think that stomach
    cramp you had after eating was probably passed off as “I ate too
    much” when it was a mild food borne illness.

    I’m not for letting ANY business ‘get away with’ causing illness, however this
    sue for this and that is going a bit too far in my book.


    I share Preparedness, Homesteading, Self-reliance knowledge & doc’s
    at:  http://NMUrbanHomesteader.blogspot.com/