Sunday, October 05, 2008


The following article from the Harper Index details how previous policies prepared the ground for the recent outbreak of food born listeriosis that has killed about 20 people in Canada so far. Meanwhile the Minister in Charge, Gerry Ritz, has been banished to "the cone of silence" as Sneaky Stevie ensures that he makes no more funnies about death and cold cuts. Where are you Gerry ?

Molly has to point out that she disagrees with the opinion of the author that government is "a force for the common good", and she also has to point out that Harper and his crew are hardly consistent in their opposition to government. In terms of such things as the military, prisons and corporate handouts the bigger the better according to the Book of Sneaky Stevie. That being said I would hardly say that the actual useful functions that government performs can be eliminated until we have better, more libertarian, organizations to take over such functions. Self-regulation (sic) by the corporations is no such better system.

Poison food crisis shows Harper’s contempt for government:
How many more people must die before the Harper government realizes that public health and safety must always transcend the boundaries of ideology?

by James Clancy, National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE)

Each passing week since the deadly outbreak of listeriosis at a Maple Leaf Foods Inc. plant in Toronto brings more evidence of the Harper government's ineptitude in responding to public health emergencies.

The botching of this life-and-death crisis also betrays something deeper and more chilling about the Harper government that should cause everyone to be afraid.

It reflects an ideological hostility to the very idea of using the government as a force for the common good, proving that the consequences of such inaction can indeed be deadly.

Experts say decisive and prompt action is crucial to saving lives during a public health emergency. Yet from the beginning of the listeriosis outbreak a peculiar paralysis took over within the most senior ranks of the Harper government.

The first deaths occurred in June and by mid-August the problem had been traced to the source. By Aug. 17, positive lab tests confirmed that several deaths were directly linked to contaminated meat products made at the Maple Leaf plant.
Politics before people
Yet the Harper administration failed to adequately warn the public about the magnitude of the problem until Aug. 20. Then, instead of announcing new resources and regulations to ensure public safety, we had the spectacle of a series of cabinet ministers issuing blithe quips and limp assurances that everything was under control.

This was followed by Harper himself, fretting about political fallout on the eve of an election, promising an internal 'independent' investigation, a move that amounts to no more than a political gambit to shield the government from allegations of negligence toward public health.

Finally, we learn that at the height of the crisis, during a conference call with scientists, bureaucrats and political staff, the federal agriculture minister trivialized the crisis, and insulted victims, by making insensitive jokes. Yet Gerry Ritz remains a member of the Harper cabinet.

The entire handling of this emergency demonstrates callous incompetence. Worse, it reveals a lethal contempt by Harper for the most basic role of government - ensuring public health and safety. It also reflects a hostility toward government as a constructive force in our society.

Sadly, this comes as no great surprise. Harper has, after all, spent his entire career denigrating government and public services. Why would anyone be shocked now that a government run by him should fail to rise to such an occasion?
Cuts go back to 2006
Since his first days in office in 2006, Harper has steadily cut funding for food safety programs and inspectors, shifting ever greater responsibility to the food companies themselves.

According to current Treasury Board of Canada forecasts, funding for food safety programs will have declined by almost 30% from $359 million in 2006-07 to $254 million in 2010-11 under Harper's watch.

At the same time, a secret government document recently brought to light by a government employee reveals that the government has been planning to let the foxes further guard the henhouse by expanding industry self-policing of food safety.

The listeriosis crisis is reminiscent of the poison water scandal that rocked Walkerton, Ont., in 2000. That disaster was caused in large part by government cutbacks and a deliberate weakening of provincial inspection and safety procedures by the Ontario regime of Conservative Premier Mike Harris.

Harper's cabinet now includes some of the same ministers who were part of the Harris government, ministers who should have learned the obvious lessons of the Walkerton tragedy.

That they did not makes an even more chilling point: the ineptitude now apparent in Ottawa is not merely a failure to learn the lessons of Walkerton. It bespeaks an ideological contempt for anything and everything that government can do to better society.
How many more deaths?
The listeriosis outbreak is an especially deadly lesson in why effective and rigorous government oversight and action offers the best guarantee of public health and safety. But how many more people will die before the Harper government realizes that public health and safety must always transcend political ideology?
Links and sources



Like the ongoing scandal surrounding "melamine" in milk containing products imported from China the word "listeriosis" may not be familiar to the average reader. Here's a little Molly guide to the illness.

The genus Listeria (named for Joseph Lister)is a bacterial genus with six species including L. monocytogenes, the cause of listeriosis. L. monocytogenes is a gram positive, motile(under 30 degrees), rod shaped organism commonly found in soil, water, sewage, plants and food. It is a rare cause of food poisoning, but a deadly one as the case fatality rate may each 25%. The bacterium is very hardy in the environment, and is able to grow at temperatures ranging from 4 degrees (your fridge) to 37 degrees (your body).

It wasn't until 1981 that L. monocytogenes was recognized as a cause of food poisoning due to an outbreak in Halifax, Nova Scotia, amongst pregnant women and infants. There were 41 cases and 18 deaths in that incident- due to cabbage in coleslaw that had been contaminated by sheep manure. Most normal adults are resistant to the organism, and up to 10% of people may actually harbour the species in their intestines. Neonates, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems are, however, much more susceptible. Infection during pregnancy may result in spontaneous abortion or in serious neonatal illness. The disease can involve many different body systems, gastrointestinal, respiratory,and nervous system but its deadliest forms involve septicemia and meningoencephalitis.

Many different foods have been implicated in various outbreaks, including milk (especially unpasteurized milk), meats, cheese (especially soft cheeses), raw vegetables and fish. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has produced a 'Meet the Bugs:Food Safety Guide' that gives an extensive listing.

In Canada's recent outbreak the source was the Maple Leaf Foods Bartor Road plant in North York,Toronto, and the main products affected were packaged deli meats. There were about 220 different products affected, and all bear the code "97B" near the best before date. The company instituted a voluntary recall, but products already purchased may be in consumers' freezers and the organism may have a latent period of up to three months. This means that the problem is likely far from over.

The Canadian Medical Association has weighed in with an editorial in the October 7 edition of their journal, placing much of the blame for the outbreak on the policies of the Harper government ie:

*the transfer of inspection duties to employees of the meat industry itself due to a 'Strategic Review' conducted last November. In the case of Maple Leaf this meant that the company only had to test finished product once a month.

*the refusal to modify Canada's standards for Listeria contamination to reflect the tougher standards now in place and accepted by the World Health Organization and the United States. Astoundingly enough the Harper government actually "lobbied to have American standards lowered" as part of trade negotiations.

*elimination of the cabinet post for the Public Health Agency of Canada.

*calling for an incredibly weak and toothless "independent investigation" that "will be inferior to every epidemic inquiry in Canadian history". See the Canadian Medical Association's editorial for the full details of this typical Harperesque card trick.
Meanwhile in Québec a similar but smaller story has been developing around a recall of any and all cheese that may have come in contact with 2 brands found to have been contaminated by Listeria. While, according to yesterday's Globe and Mail ,the Québec government is offering $8.4 million in aid and $11.3 million in loans to the industry the opposition parties claim that this reaction was more one of panic and could have been avoided if the government had implemented a 2005 report calling for improvements in the inspection process. Well, you can't accuse the Québec government of going backwards like the Canadian one has, but they sure haven't been going forward either.
All of this points out some inherent difficulties with a sole dependence on government to protect the consumer. Not that industry is likely to do a bang-up job either, but it is conceivable that organizations independent of both the state and the corporations might do far better. For now there are four seperate class-action lawsuits being filed in Ontario, Québec, Saskatchewan and British Columbia. All are being handled by the Merchant Law Group.


Elaine Vigneault said...

Stop taking chances, just go vegan.

mollymew said...

Not exactly,
Read the above and note the term "raw vegetables' as a source. Please also note what foodstuff listeria was first identified in as a source of food poisoning- cabbage. You aren't going to avoid such organisms by sticking to vegetable products.