My partner eyed me sternly when I announced that my next book was going to be an investigative look at pork production. “Does this mean that I’ll have to give up eating bacon?” she asked.

Deadly outbreaks of E. coli and Salmonella in spinach and cantaloupes, antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” connected to pork and chicken production, potent drugs that are banned in the United States in imported shrimp and catfish: Nothing has the potential to destroy your appetite quite as thoroughly as writing about industrial food production or living with someone who does. Somehow, I have remained omnivorous, more or less. But there are only five things that I absolutely refuse to eat. Read more

After years of debating, petitioning, rulemaking, and outright stalling, this week the federal government is finally implementing new requirements for testing E. coli in ground beef.

Why is this cause for celebration?

Because while the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has for years required testing of the deadly 0157:H7 strain of E. coli, numerous other strains have also become a significant safety threat.

So now, any ground beef that tests positive for six additional strains will be considered adulterated under the law, which means the product cannot be placed into commerce. That’s what makes this such a big deal. Read more

Thanks to factory farming’s massive economies of scale, a lot of food today is either disgusting or cruel or disgusting and cruel. Just when people stopped talking about cantaloupes with deadly listeria, “pink slime” hit the news. And just when people stopped talking about pink slime, ground beef treated with ammonia to kill germs, mad cow hit the news. Does anyone even remember the arsenic in the fruit juice?

Food scandals are so costly to Big Food, it has repeatedly tried to kill the messenger rather than clean up its act. Read more

Eric Schlosser’s book Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal (2001) is, in many ways, still fueling food policy discussion in America. A ground-breaking expose on the fast food industry and a critique of the modern food system, Fast Food Nation was a New York Times best-seller for nearly two years, evolved into a movie in 2006, and inspired the Oscar-nominated documentary Food Inc (2009). Read more

In the wake of the devastating New York Times piece on E. coli in ground beef, USDA Chief put out a statement yesterday evening:

“The story we learned about over the weekend is unacceptable and tragic. We all know we can and should do more to protect the safety of the American people and the story in this weekend’s paper will continue to spur our efforts to reduce the incidence of E. coli O157:H7. Over the last eight months since President Obama took office, USDA has been aggressive in its efforts to improve food safety, and has been an active partner in establishing and contributing to President Obama’s Food Safety Working Group.

Bah, humbug. What’s your plan, Tom? Read more

With the announcement today of a Class 1 (meaning could be deadly if eaten) recall of nearly 40,000 pounds of ground beef for E Coli contamination (Hat tip to Obamafoodorama), in addition to another 300,000 pounds of beef recalled last month, it grows ever more important that we have a person in charge of the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) at the USDA, which monitors meat, poultry and eggs. Why is this administration dithering? Guest blogger Tom Laskawy has some thoughts on the matter:

It really does seem like Tom Vilsack can’t find anyone to run the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. You wouldn’t think it would be that hard. There must be dozens of scientists and food safety experts who fit the bill. But this, of course, is the USDA we’re talking about — the poster child for regulatory capture, the phenomenon whereby a regulator acts almost entirely in the interests of its target industry rather than in the interests of the public. Read more

Yesterday, more than 20 victims of foodborne illness, including surviving family members of those killed by contaminated food, gathered at the U.S. Capitol to share their stories, meet with legislators and voice support for legislation to reform our nation’s food safety system. These victims and their families urged Congress and the Obama administration to pass food safety legislation that will improve consumer protection. The families came together as part of the Make Our Food Safe Campaign, launched by major consumer and food safety groups in an effort to put a human face on the food safety crisis in the U.S. and to set a list of priorities for food safety reform. Read more