Denver Post Exposes FDA Secrecy on Food Threats to Public Health

April 18, 2012

With a policy of extreme reluctance to name foods, farms, restaurants, or companies that may be responsible for outbreaks of foodborne illness, the Food and Drug Administration may be doing more to protect business profits than to protect public health.

That was the burden of an investigative piece in the Denver Post April 15, 2012, by reporter Michael Booth. The FDA refused to comment on the story.

The issue is not a new one. Booth's story raised the issue of whether the public has a right to know the identity and source of foods in commerce that government agencies actually know may be causing fatal illness. FDA is only one of several federal agencies responsible for food safety — and similar issues exist in the layer of state agencies that regulate food safety.

Booth reported on a 2009 E. coli outbreak that spread across six states. FDA let its probe into the outbreak go dormant despite clear leads, the story said, citing frustration by state agencies. Experts said FDA's "cone of silence" hindered development of safer growing and packing methods.

"In an October 2011 salmonella outbreak that sickened 68, federal agencies told journalists there was no public benefit in being more specific than problems at Mexican 'Restaurant Chain A,'" Booth wrote. "It was the Oklahoma health department that disclosed the chain where many victims had eaten was Taco Bell."