Peter Pan peanut butter, named after the kid who wouldn't grow up, is making folks throw up instead.
Oscar Mayer is recalling chicken breast strips that might be contaminiated with bad-acting bacteria.
Dole is recalling several thousand cases of imported melons after tests indicate they, too, have been touched by salmonella.
What's going on? Well, in short, our federal food safety program is broken. We know from a lot of disasters that President Bush won't respond appropriately or at all, but Congress is taking a pass, too, being all occupied debating non-binding resolutions instead of doing anything real.
The scandal that food safety has become isn't new; it's just growing. The Government Accountability Office recently designated federal oversight of food safety as "high risk," a label it reserves for things that are really messed up. Said the GAO:
Each year, about 76 million people contract a foodborne illness in the United States; about 325,000 require hospitalization; and about 5,000 die.
As fewer megafirms produce more of our food, the numbers of people made sick and made dead very likely will increase.
Comptroller General David Walker put it pretty plainly in testimony before a Congressional committee:
As we have repeatedly reported, our fragmented food safety system has resulted in inconsistent oversight, ineffective coordination, and inefficient use of resources.
Fifteen agencies have their fingers in a food safety stew that includes 30 different confusing, comlicated laws that do not always make a whole lot of sense:
How a packaged ham and cheese sandwich is regulated depends on how the sandwich is presented. USDA inspects manufacturers of packaged open- face meat or poultry sandwiches (e.g., those with one slice of bread), but FDA inspects manufacturers of packaged closed-face meat or poultry sandwiches (e.g., those with two slices of bread). Although there are no differences in the risks posed by these products, USDA inspects wholesale manufacturers of open-face sandwiches sold in interstate commerce daily, while FDA inspects manufacturers of closed-face sandwiches an average of once every 5 years.
Walker said, and let's hope someone somewhere is listening, that "a fundamental reexamination of the federal food safety system is warranted."
Let's get to it.