From Today’s New York Times

October 6, 2009 at 7:51 pm Leave a comment

To the Editor:

Re “The Burger That Shattered Her Life: Trail of E. Coli Shows Flaws in Ground Beef Inspection System” (front page, Oct. 4):

Your article about E. coli and the young woman whose future has been irreversibly altered through the simple, all-American act of eating a hamburger is a stunning indictment of the food-processing industry in general and the specifically named corporations whose moral bankruptcy is made all the more glaring by their efforts to justify their actions behind a curtain of claims of trade confidentiality.

It also offers an equally harsh negative judgment of the federal authorities whose mandate is to protect the integrity of the public’s food supply chain but who have chosen to interpret this responsibility so lightly as to let such claims stand while ignoring repeated offenses by the industry.

Is it any wonder that cynicism with regard to the efficacy of government is at an all-time high?

A. Victoria
Bridgehampton, N.Y., Oct. 5, 2009

To the Editor:

I ate my last hamburger last night. It tasted wonderful—juicy, fragrant and meaty. Then I saw the photo of Stephanie Smith and read the accompanying article. It’s a terrible but ultimately not surprising tale, given the continued lack of self-regulation and the emphasis on profit over safety in the meat industry.

The only way the meat industry will change its ways is for people to stop buying ground beef and cause sales to plummet. Only then will these companies “do the right thing,” if only to ensure their continued survival.

Starting today, I’m no longer eating ground beef.

Ann Calandro
Flemington, N.J., Oct. 4, 2009

To the Editor:

Your otherwise impressive article did not mention irradiation, the only reliable method of eliminating E. coli O157:H7 and other disease-causing microbes from raw meat and poultry. The Food and Drug Administration approved irradiation as safe and effective for use on poultry in 1992 and on meat in 1997. But for more than 20 years, consumer groups led by Public Citizen have worked to scare the public about food irradiation and threatened to boycott companies that market irradiated products.

In 2001, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that irradiating half the meat and poultry consumed in the United States would mean 900,000 fewer cases of food-borne illness and 350 fewer deaths each year. Unfortunately, irradiated meat and poultry can’t be found on store shelves. For that you can blame a cowardly food industry and a cynical consumer movement, willing to sacrifice lives to further its antinuclear agenda.

Larry Katzenstein
Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., Oct. 5, 2009
The writer worked from 1978 to 1990 at Consumers Union as a health and science writer for Consumer Reports Magazine.

To the Editor:

As someone who has followed this issue for years, I would no sooner eat burger meat from an industrial processor than I would send a 4-year-old across Broadway alone.

While this tragedy will increase calls for sorely needed government regulation, the real answer lies in the hands of each one of us: buy your burger from a local butcher who processes his ground beef daily on the premises.

There are many of these, survivors of the industrialization of our food supply, in most cities and towns across America. You will enjoy a much better meal and can safely cook it to your preferred doneness, although it will cost more.

The consumer, in his willy-nilly race to the bottom of the price chain, is the real enabler here. I wonder if the inflated health insurance premiums we all pay, in part to account for worst-case scenarios like that of Stephanie Smith, are in effect a hidden subsidy for these food-processing giants, who, like the banks that don’t even know who actually owns the mortgage, are unable to tell where our food even comes from.

Serge Scherbatskoy
Arcata, Calif., Oct. 4, 2009

To the Editor:

I have been a strict vegetarian most of my life, and, as such, I have never lacked reasons—ethical, economic and health-related—to continue this lifestyle. But Stephanie Smith’s very tragic hamburger-induced affliction provides me with still another excuse (as if I needed one) to shun the carnivorous ways of so many of my fellow beings.

I wish Ms. Smith the very best.

Gordon Wilson
Laguna Niguel, Calif., Oct. 4, 2009

To the Editor:

Nobody on the path followed by the contaminated beef that wrecked Stephanie Smith’s life has accepted responsibility for his failures in the obligation to assure food safety. The Department of Agriculture, Cargill and all their suppliers mouth meaningless, and nonbinding, pledges to make incremental improvements while assuring us only that they will not take all the measures that are within their power to produce safe food.

The Department of Agriculture, our government, continues to compromise our health in favor of industry convenience. How many lives must be lost or horribly altered before the agencies we entrust with our well-being do their jobs and begin to look out for our interests?

Gary Paudler
Summerland, Calif., Oct. 4, 2009

To the Editor:

With regard to the tragic E. coli food poisoning of Stephanie Smith, which has probably left her paralyzed for life, as well as many others around the country ill from tainted ground beef, I find the comments of Dr. Kenneth Petersen, an assistant administrator with the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, dreadful, appalling and alarming.

He stated that the department could demand mandatory testing, but that it had to consider what effect that would have on companies as well as consumers. He said, “I have to look at the entire industry, not just what is best for public health.”

It was my understanding that the agency’s first priority was and should be the safety of the public! Imagine if I and the rest of the medical profession said we had to look at the entire pharmaceutical and surgical supply industry’s needs, not just our patients’ health. What a potential disaster that could be for our patients’ health and well-being!

Howard Rudominer
Livingston, N.J., Oct. 4, 2009
The writer is a doctor.…

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