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Letter From The Editor: Thoughts About Elderly Victims


A few years ago, I was in Portland investigating an E. coli outbreak at a local restaurant. By happenstance, I met one of the recovering victims. He was a strapping man, about 70 years old, with huge hands and a hearty laugh.

He had been both a lumberjack and a fisherman and he told me stories from the time when Portland still was a blue-collar working class town.  After a couple of hours, I had to leave. I remember feeling good that this salt of the earth guy had survived his bout with E. coli.

Then about a year later, I learned he was dead. Something else got him after E. coli first knocked him down. I was stunned because the memory of our time together was so fresh.

Since then I’ve learned from medical experts doing scientific research on these events that it’s pretty common for elderly victims of foodborne illness to fight back only to lose the big battle of life to something else. According to the Denver Post, we’ve seen this again as two Colorado men who were sickened in the deadly listeria outbreak of 2011, caused by local cantaloupe, have died in recent days.

Herb Stevens, 86, and Charles Palmer, 70, can be added to the death toll for the cantaloupe-caused listeria outbreak that officially killed 33 people, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. One of the deadliest foodborne illness outbreaks in U.S. history, the listeria contamination was traced to cantaloupe grown in southeast Colorado near the Kansas border.

Stevens, who lived in the Denver suburb of Littleton, is said to have never really rebounded after the listeria-contaminated cantaloupe made him ill. After eating the cut-up cantaloupe, he came down with tremors, chills, and was too weak to stand.  He was hospitalized for months.

Palmer, a retired Marine Corps master sergeant, never really had any health issues before he ate the bad cantaloupe.

Afterwards, doctors treating him for listeria discovered cancer.  His symptoms began with a severe headache and stiff neck, and worsened to the point his eyes were rolling back and he was not responding to his wife, who called 911.

Master Sergeant Palmer wrote that he was worried about the burden his deterioration was putting on his wife and two sons. Thinking of others seems to be what comes naturally to Marines like Palmer.

My handful of examples does not prove anything, but I am pretty certain that elderly victims of foodborne illnesses, even those who initially recover, end up paying a price in either a diminished quality of life or reduced life span period.  Good enough reason, I think, for the elderly to do everything they can to steer clear of foodborne illnesses by taking every precaution possible.

More research into how the elderly get knocked down again after recovery from food borne illnesses would be helpful in understanding what they really have to go through.

Brookover, Best in Cyclospora Reporting, and the Horse Hearing

Last week in both this column and in personal emails, I asked the owners of Brookover Feed Lots Inc. to drop the simple trespass charges against the National Geographic team that was on assignment in Kansas. Neither Earl Brookover, Jr., managing partner, nor Ty Brookover, manager of operations, responded to my request.

I honestly did not think the Brookovers would be that small minded. Good news is National Geographic is providing the team’s defense.

In all reporting of the ongoing Cyclospora outbreak, the stand out job was done July 25 by our own James Andrews with Cyclospora Outbreak Highlights Differing Epidemiology Philosophies. In it Andrews explores why it is taking so long for officials to name the food source that this parasite is using to get around.

On this coming Friday, Aug. 2, the federal court for New Mexico is going to be filled with lawyers as it seems the number of parties in Front Range Equine Rescue v. Vilsack continues to grow.

Front Range Equine Rescue, backed by animal advocacy groups like the Humane Society of America, are asking the federal court for a preliminary injunction to stop USDA from inspecting horsemeat produced at packing plants that are set to open in New Mexico and Iowa. That is why Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is the defendant in the civil action.

To get a preliminary injunction, plaintiffs need to show they have a high likelihood of prevailing once the issue goes to trial.

It might not be that simple for a federal judge to predict how this is going to end up. Take, for example, the entry of the Yakama Nation into the case. The 1.3 million acre Yakama reservation in Washington State “has suffered substantial damages due to the overpopulation of feral horses,” says attorney John Dillard.

“In the Yakama’s case, their grazing lands have a carrying capacity for approximately 1000 feral horses. At this time, their feral horse population exceeds 12,000, and is doubling every four years, “Dillard adds. “The lack of domestic horse slaughter has left the Yakama Nation without an economically viable outlet for managing the horse population on their reservation.”

The tribe’s wildlife biologist has prepared a declaration laying out the  “many unintended consequences the domestic horse slaughter ban has wreaked upon the Yakama Nation.” And attorney Dillard will be there from Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz PC in Washington D.C. to represent the Yakama Nation’s substantial interest in how this case comes out.

This is a lengthy way of saying; the horse slaughter issue is getting a whole lot more complicated. It should be a fascinating hearing on Friday.

© Food Safety News
  • Anna P

    It is time for animal agriculture to clean up it’s act, in every respect. It is not only ravaging land, water supplies, and sea from it’s unmanageable amount of crap (literal and otherwise), it is one of the primary causes of contamination of vegetable and fruit crops.

    As to adding yet another animal to our 10 billion slaughter roster, ag can’t handle what they have now responsibly, let alone adding another. We saw the last equine slaughter house in Texas, and what it did to the community and to the animals-it was utterly disgusting. In addition, the horses headed to the kill facility in NM would also be domestic, they have been treated with standard drugs (deworming meds etc.) and the meat could be lethal for human consumption. That is one of the major reasons the latest worldwide horse meat scandal was so shocking, the fatal nature of consuming these drugs, and of course the idea that eating horse flesh is repulsive to most people.

    Below cited from http://www.livescience.com/9589-surprising-history-america-wild-horses.html
    and contribution from M. Devlin

    There is scientific consensus:
    the horse originated in North America. It is a native species that was
    reintroduced in its ancestral homeland, the American West, about five
    hundred years ago. The horse was re-wilded.

    When species go extinct in a particular habitat, efforts are often
    made to reestablish them. For instance, elk were once the most widely
    distributed deer in North America. By the end of the 19th century,
    however, they were extinct throughout most of their range. In Nevada,
    elk were reintroduced in the early 1930s. With protection, the elk
    rebounded and currently number over 15,000.

    On public lands, non-native commercial livestock outnumber native
    wild horses by nearly 30 to 1. BLM allots approximately 8,600,000
    monthly grazing units to livestock in the western states that have wild
    horse herds. Even in herd management areas, which are supposed to be
    dedicated primarily (though not exclusively) to wild horses, cattle
    typically get apportioned 90 percent of the grazing slots.

    Wild horses are not a problem or the problem.
    They restore the range by their foraging habits. Cattle grazed
    alongside equids actually gain more weight. Horses and cattle are commensals, not competitors.

    There is no competition among horses, deer, elk, or bighorn either.
    In fact, where the horse herds have increased, so have the other
    resident species. According to Holistic Management,
    to restore the rangeland, higher numbers of grazing animals are needed.
    A video presentation on Holistic Management is found at the link below.

    Multi-year studies on three different wild-horse herds disclosed that
    mountain-lion predation alone can keep an equine population in check.
    Although preaching the goal of a “thriving natural ecological balance,”
    BLM exterminates native predators for the benefit of livestock operators
    and sport-hunters. The stealth beneficiary is BLM. By eliminating the
    predators, BLM positions itself as the sole population-control agent of
    wild horses and burros. BLM creates the problem, then requests a budget
    to solve it at taxpayer expense.

    Independent fact-checking points to fewer than 13,000 wild horses and
    burros left on the range — about one-third the “38,000″ figure that BLM
    continues to cite, year after year, no matter how many thousands it
    rounds up and removes. BLM’s data is bogus, ginned up to show a wild
    horse “excess” that does not exist. But Congress, the public, and the
    media innocently assume BLM’s information is valid. So they rely on it,
    quote it, and draw what must seem like logical conclusions based on it.
    Faux figures have been an issue at BLM for a long time. The Kearns & West report
    — a review that BLM commissioned in 2010 — noted that as far back as
    1982 there was internal resistance to the way BLM was determining wild
    horse populations. The report cited a National Research Council
    Committee finding of “the pressures which many district and area
    personnel feel to depict range, population, and other conditions in an
    antihorse and antiburro context.”

    BLM officially pledges to protect the wild horses from slaughter, but
    has been busy creating the very conditions that put the mustangs at
    risk — accumulating an excess of them in captivity, while keeping the
    herds below minimum viable population on the range.
    ProPublica’s investigative report evidences that, in secret, BLM has
    been selling Federally-protected wild horses to a kill-buyer with
    long-time business connections to the Secretary of the Interior.

    It is time to divest BLM and defund the roundups. Return captive
    horses to freedom and revive the natural ecological balance on the
    People’s lands.



    As a taxpayer, I am tired of my money subsidizing a multi billion dollar industry that is destroying our land. Thanks.

  • I can agree with you on your concerns about the elderly and food poisoning.

    Your attempt to get the feedlot to drop the charges is interesting, but this really is a case where the feedlot owner is attempting to ‘punish’ the people for invading its airspace to take photos. However, since there’s no tangible proof that the photographer and his instructor violated posted no trespassing space, other than someone at the feedlot making this claim, it’s unlikely the county will prevail.

    The county prosecutor is the fool in this one. Probably trying to suck up because of political ambition.

    Your horse slaughter coverage is interesting. A little mixed at times, but interesting.

    I went to college in Yakima. I knew some of the Yakima tribal folk. Let’s just say, not all tribal folk are the same.

    The Yakima tribal members complaints about ‘being overrun’ might make more sense if they hadn’t recently imported pronghorn into tribal land, at the behest of sporting clubs. They did so without concern for the ecology of the region, or the potential impact of the pronghorn.

    This is about money, pure and simple. They don’t care about solving the horse population problem, they only want to profit from it. Don’t get all dewy eyed because of tribal intervention.

    As for the horse population doubling, well, I’d want an independent verification of the numbers before I just accept them as given.

    Remember, too, that there is tribal intervention on the other side of this legal case.

    This court case, though, is not about whether horse slaughtering should begin or not. You have to keep your eye on the legal basis for the case, which is that the USDA did not do an environmental analysis of the impact of these horse slaughterhouses, as required by NEPA. Those suing the USDA have precedent on their side, as well as a very sound legal case.

    New Mexico state’s intervention is really key to this case, and I think more than sufficient to tip the scales towards the plaintiffs. The tribal intervention may be romantic, but it’s the state’s intervention that is most compelling from a legal perspective.

    It’s really an interesting legal case, Dan.

    If anyone is interested in seeing the legal documents, you can access most of them at


    • I just realized I used Yakima instead of Yakama.

      I’m used to Yakima, I lived in Yakima, and knew the folks before the tribal nation name change.

  • Candrew10

    Dan….no question in our mind that even though Karen survived her poisoning from peanut butter, she has not, and likely will not, fully recover. Our view is based on our level of activity including a lot of travel and daily hiking compared to what Karen is facing each day with muscle soreness, bad back and general body pain. We no longer hike and she struggles to accomplish a daily short walking regimen.
    We can’t prove a connection but it is more than a coincidence that the problems have only developed since Stewart Parnell poisoned her.

  • J’Marinde Shephard

    Why doesn’t whichever is the managing agency in the Yakama lands relocate 11, 000 or more of these feral horses to other of this country’s lands or national parks? In parts of Africa, their wildlife management services relocate animals all the time to get them to more sustainable lands and places. How is it that we do even less?

  • J’Marinde Shephard

    “Good enough reason, I think, for the elderly to do everything they can to steer clear of foodborne illnesses by taking every precaution possible.”
    Then, how about some PRACTICAL suggestions for doing so?