ABC's Push for Stark Regulation
On the heels of two E. coli outbreaks that are still under investigation, ABC News hyped the risk of food-borne illness and suggested more government regulation could prevent illness and death. But Americans are as likely to die in a car crash with a semi truck as from food poisoning, and government disease experts believe better reporting and treatment explain the rise in documented illness.
â€śAfter all the illnesses, tests and theories, investigators still donâ€™t know which foods are causing the outbreak or where they come from,â€ť ABC anchor Charles Gibson noted as he introduced Lisa Starkâ€™s report on the December 12 â€śWorld News Tonight.â€ť
After informing viewers that â€śthereâ€™s no indication this outbreak is connectedâ€ť to an earlier outbreak at Taco Bell restaurants in the Northeast, Stark quickly turned to the push for regulation.
â€śThis latest scare on top of the spinach E. coli outbreak in September is increasing the clamor for changes in food safety oversight,â€ť Stark noted as she introduced a sound bite from liberal Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.). (She has a 95 rating with Americans for Democratic Action.) DeLauro insisted that the 5,000 who die each year in the United States from food-borne illness are proof positive of the need to create a new government agency to handle food inspection, absorbing the duties now scattered among various existing agencies.
To bolster DeLauroâ€™s call for more spending, Stark featured the liberal Center for Science in the Public Interestâ€™s (CSPI) Caroline Smith DeWaal calling on the Bush administration to ramp up the FDAâ€™s budget and hire more inspectors.
Stark left out that CSPIâ€™s aims are as broad as DeLauroâ€™s. CSPI, which has also sued or threatened to sue fast food chains over their cooking oils, called for a large government bureaucracy to oversee the food supply â€śfrom farm to fork,â€ť in a September 15 news release.
Whatâ€™s more, DeWaal has previously resorted to scary rhetoric to slam the Bush administration on food safety. â€śPresident Bush, donâ€™t make us put our lives on the line every time we put meat on our plates,â€ť DeWaal complained in a March 14, 2002, press statement.
Yet no critic of government regulation was brought out to balance DeWaal and DeLauro. Whatâ€™s more, the federal governmentâ€™s own findings on food-borne disease present a decidedly less frightening portrait of food safety in the United States.
While the U.S. sees an â€śestimated 76 million cases of food-borne diseaseâ€ť each year, the vast bulk of them â€śare mild and cause symptoms for only a day or twoâ€ť while the worst cases â€śtend to occur in the very old, the very youngâ€ť and people with compromised immune systems according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Web site.
Another CDC Web page noted that â€śtechnological advances such as pasteurization and proper canning have all but eliminated some disease,â€ť and while incidents of food poisoning have risen over the past few years, some of that is attributable to better reporting and more careful analysis of individual cases, not necessarily a compromised or unsafe food supply.
Additionally the CDC reported that the 5,000 deaths a year are significantly lower than some 20 years ago. A 1987 study reported some 9,000 deaths from food poisoning cases. While 5,000 may sound like an alarming number, itâ€™s about the same number of deaths the federal Transportation Department calculates to occur each year from auto accidents involving large trucks on U.S. highways.