Most of you likely have not followed the story of 5-year-old Mason Jones, who died of E. coli O157:H7 poisoning in 2005 after eating a school lunch.
I have followed it closely, in part because over the last few years, as I spoke at food safety conferences in Wales and England, Mason’s story was everywhere. Here in the United States, his death from E. coli O157:H7, like the deaths of countless U.S. children, produces a polite nod, but never a national reaction. Mason’s horrible death has been discussed at length in the United Kingdom for five years.
If his death had happened anywhere here it would have prompted a few news stories, a civil lawsuit, but never five years of national reflection.
Mason’s death from hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), and the deaths and severe illnesses that occur in the United States yearly, are hard to imagine and more difficult to watch. Mason was the only one to die, but there were 150 victims of the 2005 outbreak caused by William John Tudor, a butcher who sold contaminated meat. Tudor, 58, was jailed for a year in September 2007 for “putting unsafe meat on the market.”
Ask yourself this, how many times in the U.S. has a food producer been fined or jailed for putting unsafe food on the market? Think hard, because it does not happen.
Other than answer to the lawsuits I bring on behalf of victims and families, companies that do what Mr. Tudor did simply move on, either bankrupt or still in business. Our government might conduct a show hearing or two on Capitol Hill, but any substantive investigation or prosecution is left to me. Government, businesses (large and small), and frankly, the public, see a child like Mason as incidental to our desire for cheap food and fat profits. Remember the oft-used phrase, “We have the safest food supply in the world.”
According to press reports, coroner David Bowen this past week issued a neutral narrative verdict on the death of Mason Jones at an inquest in Newport, Wales. Despite strong words emphasizing that Mason had died from eating contaminated meat served at school, the coroner said he was unable to record a verdict of unlawful killing.
The family criticized the coroner’s decision to not rule that Mason was unlawfully killed by eating contaminated meat: “We are extremely disappointed the coroner felt he wasn’t legally able to return a verdict that Mason was unlawfully killed.” However, Tudor did spend time behind bars. In the US, he would still be on the golf course.
The coroner did call for stricter food controls, demanding more spot checks on abattoirs and meat factories to prevent another fatality. He said: “The mechanism for the inspection of food hygiene regulations should be reviewed as a matter of urgency. Unannounced inspections of abattoirs and premises on which meat is processed should take place more regularly. Compliance with food hygiene regulations should be more strictly enforced.”
Sounds like the complete opposite of what the anti-regulation/Tea Party groups are saying here about any food safety legislation, namely HB 2749 and S 510. Remember the oft-used phrase, “We have the safest food supply in the world.” The death of Mason Jones, Wales’s “E. coli Boy,” is still causing anguish across the pond, but not a ripple here.