Wednesday, May 2, 2007

More about the non-answers from the FDA yesterday

A great post by Christie over on her other blog
Hey, FDA, here's a tip for you

This is my tip of the day for the FDA, which they might want to consider before tomorrow's media conference:

When a question begins with the phrase "how many," the answer should be in numeric form.

Last night, very very late last night, the USDA published a transcript of Tuesday's media briefing, which I had liveblogged at PetConnection. There was one section I knew I wanted to look at more closely, and I did that here. Then I carefully re-read the whole thing, and something else grabbed my attention.

First, Miriam (misspelled "Marian" in the transcript as well as my liveblogging) Falco of CNN asked, "Do you know how many people may have consumed chicken products?"

To which David Acheson, the new FDA "food safety czar," replied:

Let me first try to clarify what I meant by the 'don't form a large part of the diet.' I did not mean to imply for that there are not a large number of American consumers eating pork and poultry. That is not what I meant. The contrast to draw here is with a pet who frequently will consume the same sort of food 100 percent. But if you have a contaminated product and it's 100 percent of the pet food, that's a very different scenario from a human consumer in which chicken or pork is just essentially the meat on the side of the plate with the two veggies. That's what I was implying is that poultry typically is not an exclusive nutrient in the human diet.

Realizing, I guess, that he hadn't answered her question in the slightest, he then added, "I'll pass the rest of it, I think, over to Dr. Petersen."

That would be Dr. Kenneth Petersen, the Assistant Administrator for Field Operations with the Food Safety and Inspection Service with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who asked Ms. Falco to repeat her question. She responded:

The question I had was: how many people may have eaten some of these chicken products? Your press release yesterday was very vague. It was processed. But how much? How many people may have consumed this? You told us about 350 hogs in California and Kansas and Utah, but how many chickens are we talking about? How many people might be out there?

Did you notice all the "how many," "now much" questions in this paragraph? Me too. See if you can find any numeric answers in his reply:

Okay. Well, we have, of course, have to remember we haven't found any evidence to indicate consumption of this is unsafe. Yesterday when we identified the farms of interest, so now we're looking at the farms, and then what was determined was the poultry were fed this feed several months ago. And so, given the short lifespan of chickens when they grow out, those have already gone into the food chain and so we would need to look at what individual plants they may have gone to.

But given those other consumption factors that Dr. Acheson has indicated, that's not a feature of our investigation today. It's trying to find how many people consume chicken from these individual farms. As he indicated, chicken of course is an important part of the American diet; it's not necessarily something that people are going to eat every day and on an ongoing basis. So because we don't see any health issue because of the consumption factors, how many people could have eaten infected chicken – or, not infected, but the chicken that consumed the contaminated feed or even pork that was consumed -- is not the feature of our investigation today.

Lori Adder of the Wall Street Journal didn't have much better luck:

(H)ave you pegged a number to how much the government is expecting to spend on depopulating animals and indemnifying farmers?

Dr. Acheson responded to something else she had asked, then turned the numeric question over to Dr. Petersen again, who responded:

On the financial aspects of the depopulation, that's the Section 32 funds which, of course, as we've suggested, are designed to restore the purchasing power to the farmers, the affected growers, and I don't have, I wish I did today, I don't have a dollar value for you.

Lester Aldrich with Dow Jones News Wireless tried a "how long" question - again, probably wanting some kind of answer in, you know, numeric form. He didn't get it:

Lester Aldrich: Yes. Do you have any sense of how long this has been going on in China? This whole thing seems to be well-known over there, like it's common knowledge. Have we been importing these kinds of products for a long period of time?

DR. ACHESON: This David Acheson at FDA. The truthful answer to your question is that we don't know. Clearly, that is a concern as to whether this has been going on for some period of time, and, if it has, how come it's just surfaced. You could speculate that the reason it just surfaced is for some reason the ratio of the melamine to the melamine-related compounds was different in a couple of batches. That's what triggered the alert here because it made the pets sick and caused a serious examination investigation of the whole system. So I don't know how long this has been going on, but I too have read reports that this is not something that started recently, but as to the facts we don't have them.

Perhaps sensing that the FDA and numbers, not so much, Daniel Goldstein with Bloomberg News tried to mix it up a little asking for some names - something I'd tried a couple of press conferences before, without any luck. He didn't have any, either:

DANIEL GOLDSTEIN: Yes, hi. Just a question on the 38 or so farms in Indiana. Can you tell us who owns those farms? Those are commercial farms, they are contract growers, and who actually they were supplying poultry to?

MODERATOR: Give us one second, please.

DR. ACHESON: This is David Acheson. At this time we are not able to do that because it's part of an ongoing active investigation.

The New York Times got pushy with its "how many" question, and although the answer was vague, and reluctantly given, it was, at least, in the form of a number:

New York Times: How many plants do you think, do you believe received Chinese protein concentrated vegetable origin exactly?

DR. ACHESON: At this point I don't have a number on that in terms of the total number of plants.

New York Times: But it's several hundred? Is it just dozens? How many are we talking about, just kind of roughly if you don't have an exact number?

DR. ACHESON: As I say I don't have an exact number but it could well be in the hundreds.

At one point I sincerely believed that if this food crisis had hit human food instead of pet food, the response would have been a lot different.

Apparently I was wrong.

You and me both Christie, you and me both.

No comments:

Volunteers Needed! Get food off shelves...,,,, and have joined together to ask for your help.
Update 6-10: Recalled food was purchased from a
California store on 5-29th – this stuff is still out there!
We need Volunteers to help get recalled food off store shelves. Read this post at Spocko’s Brain for instructions. Print a list (or two) on this site. Visit stores, then report safe stores here at

Printing Information:
1. Print the main FDA Pet Food Recall page – this will be handy to show retailers who haven’t heard anything about the recall. (3 pages)

2. Print the list of 14 Major National Brands - it includes flavors and date information where applicable so you can tell if specific products for these brands have been recalled. The brands are: Alpo Prime Cuts, Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover’s Soul, Doctors Foster and Smith, Eukanuba, Gravy Train, Hill’s Science Diet, Iams, Jerky Treats, Lick Your Chops, Mighty Dog Pouches, Natural Balance, Nutro, Pounce, Royal Canin. (It’s 7 pages and includes FDA contact information.)

3. Print the List of All Brands – it will remind you what products have been recalled - but it does not give you date and flavor information, there is just too much to put in one document. (7 pages, but the 7th page is links to more detailed information so you don’t need to print it)

If you want, and are going to a store that you know has store brands that have been recalled (such as Walmart), go to that recall information at the links on the summary or at the FDA site and print it out. Some of the information is formatted in ways that make it difficult to read (one of the main reasons for this site), but it’s better than nothing.

Note: The FDA is the official source for all recall information and recalled products. This is an unofficial volunteer effort to help get the word out and get recalled foods off of shelves. We’re doing the best we can but can’t guarantee these lists are completely accurate. Again, here is the official recall site: