Chicken Plant Spreading Salmonella, Agriculture Department Powerless to Stop Them

From Alternet:

A 2001 court decision crippled the federal government’s ability to shut down food plants that are sickening people.

By Alex Kane
October 14, 2013

Salmonella has made hundreds of people sick across the country in recent weeks. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is doing little to stop its spread, as Think Progress’ Aviva Shen reports.

The recent salmonella outbreak has sickened at least 300 people, with 42 percent of the victims being hospitalized–an alarming rate. But the Agriculture Department has not shut down the place where the salmonella came from: the California-based Foster Farms. Instead, the department, which did threaten to close the plant down, is keeping it open because the company promised to make “ immediate substantive changes to their slaughter and processing to allow for continued operations.”

The USDA is not closing the plant down because a 2001 court decision crippled their ability to do so, as Shen notes. A conservative federal court had ruled that the USDA could not shutdown Supreme Beef–which had failed salmonella tests–because the meat would be safe if it was cooked the right way. The court decision means the USDA can only ask companies to voluntarily recall products.

So the USDA has been forced to embark on public campaigns to educate consumers on how to avoid salmonella, instead of taking action to shut down bad food plants. This is what’s happening with Foster Farms. Their products will continue to be made, and the company has released a statement stating that “the alert that regulators issued based on illnesses over the past seven months emphasizes the need to fully cook and properly handle raw poultry.”

The salmonella outbreak is occurring in the midst of a government shutdown that has furloughed federal workers, including those who work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When the salmonella outbreak made headlines, the CDC ordered some furloughed employees back to work to investigate it. But “ fewer than half of the 80 employees in the division that monitors food-borne illnesses will be coming back, and there are an estimated 30 outbreaks to be investigated,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

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Up to 1 Million Evacuated Before Cyclone’s ‘Trail of Destruction’

From Common Dreams:

Jacob Chamberlain

Cyclone Phailin, the strongest cyclone to hit India in 14 years, left a ‘trail of destruction’ behind on Sunday, Reuters reports. However, many lives were spared due to a massive evacuation effort.

Extreme winds of up to 135 miles per hour and torrential rain had weakened as the storm headed inland into Sunday morning.

As the storm passes, news agencies are reporting up to 17 deaths so far but that number may climb, officials said, as rescue and clean up efforts continue.

Comparisons to the storm’s strength and size are being made with Cyclone Orissa that left at least 10,000 people dead in India in 1999. The difference, state officials are say, lies in the evacuation of nearly 1 million people, including more than 870,000 in Orissa and more than 100,000 in neighboring Andhra Pradesh, this time around.

Reuters reports:

At least 873,000 people in Odisha and adjacent Andhra Pradesh spent the night in shelters, some of which had been built after a 1999 storm killed 10,000 in the same area. Others sought safety in schools or temples, in an exercise disaster management officials called one of India’s largest evacuations.

“We saved lives by putting them in shelters in time,” said Odisha’s special relief commissioner, J.K. Mohapatra. […]

Winds slowed to 90 kph (56 mph) early on Sunday and rain eased. But large swathes of Odisha, including its capital, Bhubaneswar, were without electricity for a second day after the storm tore down power cables. Officials said it was too early to assess damage accurately.

Soldiers and rescue workers in helicopters, boats and trucks fanned out across the two states, but officials sounded confident that a major disaster had been avoided.

Associated Press reports:

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