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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

 
Help the CDC Fight Big Chicken before the Next Salmonella Outbreak

by Spocko

 

For all their power, at least the telcos usually aren't making people ill, hospitalizing them or killing them when they use the phone or internet (The President's Analyst was a fictional movie)

One of the most powerful lobbying groups in the country, if not the world, is Big Chicken (and its brother Big Beef). Remember, they sued Oprah! They are the ones funding the ag-gag rules around the country. They are setting up China to send us chicken and toxic seafood from the Pacific Rim.

In addition to filing lawsuits on "food defamation," giving money to legislators and capturing the USDA, they have another, bigger power. Telling and teaching the media and the public what is "acceptable" and possible when it comes to the safety of its food.

They do this using multiple methods including word choice, pathogen definition and selective reporting of critical numbers. I don't have time now to tell you how Big Chicken convinced the USDA that no level of salmonella contamination was considered high enough for a recall of chicken parts but it is a fascinating story.

The long process where they convinced the media and the public that if you get sick from eating the contaminated chicken it is YOUR fault, is worthy of an Upton Sinclair novel. I mean the sheer brilliance of that move STILL astounds me. Kudos to you National Chicken Council. Your clients should be thrilled.

You see, unless a cluster of adorable children of powerful people in a media corridor get sick and die from a commercial source, it's just a sad local story. That is how powerful their story has become. But that can change, and you can help.

 

When I was covering the death of puppies and kittens from pet food contaminated with melamine one of the biggest problems the six bloggers whose efforts I coordinated was the inability of the media to understand the scope of the problem.

Part of the problem is there is no CDC for pets. Because of this the media had no 'official' numbers, from an authority to report. This worked to the advantage of the pet food company and the pet food lobbyists. They were reporting 16 dead when the database the folks at Pet Connection put together listed 3,168 dead and over 8,000 sick. Since it was self reported no one in the mainstream media would use it and there was no CDC putting out data to update them.

My task in our blogger working group was to contact the media and tell them about this discrepancy. Then to tell Dick Durbin's office about this number and pose other questions before he grilled the people from the pet food industry.

 I really wanted to help the media get this story right, because even a dozen pets dead is unacceptable, but thousands dead is a goddamn emergency. And if you don't believe me, ask someone who had a pet die, especially if they found out they were feeding them poisoned pet food.

I would like to think that human lives are even more precious than the lives of our furry friends, but apparently not.

We know what the media likes. It's not just "if it bleeds it leads" it's also novelty, personal stories, gossip, death of celebrities, cute kids and cats. Your story won't get covered if it's "Man eats chicken and gets sick." Someone needs to find and promote the news or novelty.

Ebola was novel. It got covered even though the odds of it happening here are tiny. Yet in this CDC report they tracked 3,037 deaths from foodborne illness. Over one million people will get sick from Salmonella in the US. Every year.

One of the ways that these cases get down played is how they are reported in the media. I noticed some appropriate pooh-poohing of the alarmist reporting on ebola in the US. But would it be inappropriate if these were the numbers?

 Sickened: 1,027,561
 Hospitalized: 19,336 were
Total Dead: 378*
*from Salmonella in the US

*Those are the CDC numbers on Salmonella, nontyphoidal, cases in their 2011 report. 

Who controls how these food poisoning outbreaks are reported on? Big Chicken. They influence the USDA, who assert influence over the CDC in both subtle and not so subtle ways--starting with which number are reported.

 Example: Many of you heard of the Foster Farms Salmonella Heidelberg contamination. If you followed closely you might have heard 634 were reported sick. You really had to read close to noticed that the contaminated chicken wasn't recalled last year. But, and this is the kickerthe USDA said the public was safe as long as they cooked the chicken thoroughly and handled it correctly. (Again, BRILLIANT work blaming the victim Big Chicken!)

Multipliers or Never Tell A Journalist, "You can do the math." They Won't.

What the media didn't tell you is that based on the 634 reported cases of Salmonella Heidelberg the CDC estimates that 18,576 people were also sick but remain uncounted.

The CDC knows that for every person who goes to a hospital there are many others who do not. And for each pathogen, Norovirus, Salmonella--nontyphoidal, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter spp. and Staphylococcus aureus they create a number, called a multiplier, to figure out sick but not reported.

The multipler for Salmonella is 29.3

29.3 x 634 = 18,576.2 --->sick


The CDC also has a listing of how many are hospitalized of the reported sick. But they do it as a percentage of the total. In the case of Salmonella Heidelberg 38% of the 634 reported cases, 240 were hospitalized. 

38% x 634 = 240.2 --->hospitalized

Did you hear that 18,576 got sick or 240 were hospitalized? No. Why not? Never tell a journalist "You can do the math." You have to do it for them.

These agreements about what is reported and what is announced is controlled by the USDA. The good news is there is no love lost between the USDA and the CDC.

Help the CDC. Fight Big Chicken.

So what can you do the next time there is a Salmonella outbreak?  The CDC isn't going to contact the TV and newspapers and say, "Hey, don't forget the multiplier!" or "Be sure to report the percentage hospitalized!" They aren't the PR firm for pathogens.

In the past I've contacted reporters and passed this info on, but they don't like to do math or take info from anyone but the horse's mouth. So I tell them the numbers, send them these links to the chart and the article (which they won't read) and beg them to call the CDC to confirm. You can do this too!

Big Chicken will freak out and fight back harder than in the video at the top of the page. They are the third best lobbyists in the world, behind the tobacco companies and the NRA. But this will be the start of changing the minds of the media (and the public) about the scope of outbreaks.

Someday enough media friendly, rich white kids will get sick and die and we can change the blame the victim concept. Until then Big Chicken will keep controlling what is 'acceptable' vs. unacceptable in sickness and health in the safety of our food.

Buck Buck Buck Bugawk!
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