STATEMENT OF CFA'S CAROL TUCKER FOREMAN ON 2004 FOODNET DATA:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 15, 2005
NEW REPORT BRINGS GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS:
DECLINES IN E.COLI FOOD POISONING, INCREASES IN MULTI-DRUG RESISTANT SALMONELLA NEWPORT
CDC Acknowledges Goal of Halving Listeria Rate by 2005
The CDC FoodNet report for 2004 brings good news that illness and death from some food-borne pathogens is declining. It also contains some cautionary notes, particularly with regard to multi-drug resistant Salmonella Newport. It is particularly heartening that, for the second year in a row, fewer families were subjected to the horror of E. coli food poisoning. The reduction in E. coli O157:H7 cases demonstrates that, when government and industry concentrate their energies and resources on reducing food-borne pathogens, it works.
Now both government and industry should turn their attention to reducing the growing number of illnesses caused by drug-resistant Salmonella Newport and Salmonella Javiana and Vibrio Vulnificus.
The gross Salmonella figures in the CDC report are misleading. While overall Salmonella food poisoning declined in 2004 compared to the base period of 1996-98, Salmonella Javiana and Salmonella Newport increased by 41 percent. The presence of multi-drug resistant S. Newport is an increasingly serious public health problem. The increase in cases appears to be related to the animal production industry's continued use of important drugs to make animals grow faster. This is the animal industry equivalent of athletes gobbling down steroids to bulk up and improve performance. The athletes hurt no one but themselves. The antibiotic-pushing farmers endanger everyone.
CDC has chosen to describe progress on controlling food-borne disease by comparing the current year to a model based on 1996-1998. It is important to look as well at whether improvements are continuing. Until the 2003 report, CDC provided relative rates of infection for each year compared to the previous year. There was an easy reference to whether improvements were continuing. The agency no longer makes that information available across the board.
With regard to Listeria food poisoning, it is important to note that, while the CDC data show a substantial decline from the base period and a drop from 2003 to 2004, the agency fails to note that there was a 22% increase in the Listeria rate in 2003, from .27 to .33 per hundred thousand. The 2004 decline merely returns the rate to its level of 2002. In 2001 the rate was .30. After declining consistently for several years, Listeria rates have varied substantially from 2001 through 2004.
Importantly, CDC acknowledges that the U. S. government goal for Listeria is to reduce the rate to .25 by the end of 2005. Previously both CDC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have asserted that that goal was to be reached by 2010. Given the variation in the Listeria rate since 2001, the weak rule on controlling Listeria in so-called "ready-to-eat" meat and poultry products and the current effort by the Bush Administration Office and Management and Budget to roll back even those insufficient protections, it remains uncertain that the goal will be reached this year.
Carol Tucker Foreman is the Director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America.