Canadian listeria coverage still sucks

Daughter Braunwynn returned to Ontario last night after a great visit.

Her super-sweet 16 is less than two weeks away, so during lunch on Sunday with Amy and Sorenne and Bob, we asked what she might be studying at university (not a fair question cause I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up).

She mentioned science, psychology, maybe journalism – she liked writing.

Amy and I sorta jumped, saying that if she wanted to write, then write, and that maybe J-school wasn’t the best place to learn writing.

I teach a journalism class on food safety reporting, but there’s not much to teach: writers write, and just like scientists, they need to ask the right questions.

Braunwynn, the 15-year-old, gets it; Canadian journalists covering Michael McCain, Maple Leaf and listeria? Not so much.

There are exceptions, like Rob Cribb at the Star, but a couple of holiday puff pieces stood out. On Jan. 4, 2009, the Canadian Press correctly noted that the Canadian government has not yet named the leader of a promised probe into the listeriosis outbreak that killed 20 people — a lag critics say discredits an already suspect process.

But then they go on to excessively quote the union dude who thinks that inspectors with beer-like listeria googles are the solution. He represents the food inspectors union. Of course he wants more inspectors. As new NC State professorial thingy Ben wrote, more inspectors is not the answer.

Then there’s the researchers. They always want more research. And new technology. Oh, and to blame consumers. Because you know, consumers are the weak link when it comes to ready-to-eat deli meats. And when the researcher making such public proclamations is an advisor to Maple Leaf, that should be disclosed. Journalism 101. I’m sure glad my previously pregnant wife didn’t rely on your expert advice.

Bert Mitchell had it right the other day when he wrote that while Michael McCain has been gathering year–end goodwill for his handling of the Maple Leaf  listeria outbreak, “it is too early for applause. Effective long term solutions have not been put in place.”

For the budding journalists, there are still basic questions to be answered, questions that have nothing to do with more research, more inspectors, a public inquiry or any other narrow special interest, but questions that may help prevent any future unnecessary deaths of 20 people and  unnecessary illness of hundreds if not thousands of people:

• who knew what when;

• why aren’t listeria test results publically available; and,

• if listeria is everywhere, why aren’t there warnings for vulnerable populations?