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Grill at your own risk


Is the government fighting food poisoning?

May 23, 1996
Web posted at: 8:10 a.m. EDT

From Correspondent Eugenia Halsey

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates millions of Americans will get sick this year from food poisoning, and 9,000 will die. The sobering statistics were the focus of a Congressional hearing Thursday held by officeholders who want to know why.


On Capitol Hill, infectious disease specialists testified that campylobacter and other new germs, such as the virulent form of E. coli, are emerging all the time.

Health experts say once unknown bacteria including campylobacter, commonly found in chicken, are now thought to be a significant cause of such disorders as Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which can cause paralysis.

"We were able to estimate that a minimum of 30 percent and possibly even more than 50 percent of GBS patients had had preceding campylobacter infection," said Dr. Ban Mishu Allos of Vanderbilt University's School of Medicine.

United States government officials say since last year, they have started to more actively track cases of food poisoning through a pilot program in five states. That should help them get a better handle on just how widespread the food poisoning problem is, and how to prevent it.

Officials also endorsed a controversial proposal for using irradiation to kill germs in meat. Although its opponents feel irradiating meat is dangerous, "The CDC feels that the irradiation of foods is both effective and safe," said Dr. David Satcher of the CDC.

Congress' watchdog agency, the General Accounting Office, called for consolidating government responsibility for food safety under one agency. Right now, it is spread out among several.

Tom Devine

"The bottom line for consumers is that they can grill at their own risks this weekend,"

-- Tom Devine
Government Accountability Project

Rep. Ed Towns, D-New York, said food safety should not be a partisan issue and Congress needs to provide more money for prevention of illness. "I don't think there's any Republican ground beef ... (or) Democratic eggs," he said.

That view was echoed by a whistle-blower group, the Government Accountability Project. It released a report Thursday saying 1,200 meat and poultry inspector positions are vacant because Congress and the Department of Agriculture haven't provided enough money. "The bottom line for consumers is that they can grill at their own risks this weekend," said the project's Tom Devine.

The Agriculture Department admits it is stretched thin, but denies the inspector vacancies will compromise anyone's health this barbecue season.

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