Restaurant politics: UK protesters throw live insects into burger joints

Cockroaches, locusts and crickets were released into two Byron Hamburger restaurants in the United Kingdom as part of a protest against the chain’s role in an immigration swoop which saw dozens of its workers rounded up.

byron.burgers.insectsActivists said they released thousands of insects into two of the burger chain’s London restaurants on Friday evening.

They accused Byron of carrying out “underhand entrapment” of its workers after 35 people were removed by immigration officials earlier in July.

London Black Revs & Malcolm X Movement said in a joint Facebook statement on Saturday they had taken “affirmative action” in response to the chain’s “despicable actions in the past weeks having entrapped waiters, back of house staff and chefs in collaboration with UK Border Agency”.

“Many thousands of live cockroaches, locusts and crickets into these restaurants.

“We apologise to customers and staff for any irritation, however, we had to act as forced deportations such as this and others are unacceptable, we must defend these people and their families from such dehumanised treatment,” it continued.

Listeria-in-cantaloupe outbreak: 84 sick, including 15 dead; politics trumping policy as unknowns remain

As the number of confirmed cases of listeriosis reached 84 people in 19 states, including 15 deaths, natural-food types are blaming animal agriculture, others say a single food inspection agency would have prevented the outbreak, the government is telling people to wash their hands, and a group in Denver is using the tragedy to lobby for more paid sick days.

It’s tired but true that major outbreaks of foodborne illness are reproessed through the political filters of punditry to advance a cause, rather than focus on the biological aspects of an outbreak – especially when the unknowns are numerous.

Eric Jensen, the farmers at the center of the outbreak, has no idea how his cantaloupes became infected, and neither do the Food and Drug Administration investigators who have intermittently been in Holly, Colorado, a town of 800 people near the Kansas border.

Regardless of how it happened, the situation has left the town and farm reeling and in fear. Jensen had to quit growing and shipping cantaloupes after the outbreak was discovered — a staggering blow to a region where cantaloupe has always been a proud local tradition.

Sherri McGarry, a senior adviser in the FDA’s Office of Foods, said the agency is looking at the farm’s water supply and the possibility that animals wandered into Jensen Farms’ fields, among other things, in trying to figure out how the cantaloupes became contaminated. Listeria bacteria grow in moist, muddy conditions and are often carried by animals.

The water supply for farms in the Holly area comes from wells and irrigation ditches that tap the nearby Arkansas River. There’s no shortage of thoughts around town about the potential causes.

Proponents for Denver’s Initiative 300 that would let private employees and city workers earn up to 72 hours of paid sick days a year sent out a campaign flier that connects the ballot measure to the deadly listeria outbreak, upsetting opponents.

The mailer by Campaign for a Healthy Denver features a photo of cantaloupe next to a dish of bow-tie pasta with the question: “What can you do to make your food safer? Make sure workers handling food are healthy.”

The mailer continues: “There are many types of food contamination we can’t control. But we can help stop sick workers from handling our food by voting yes on Initiative 300.”

Greg Sauber, co-owner of the Wash Park Grille, said, “It is outrageous and disgusting to use a tragedy for a political campaign. I don’t know where they are coming from with this.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control published an outbreak investigative summary yesterday, including a description of how once cantaloupe was implicated, PulseNet, the national molecular subtyping network for foodborne bacterial disease surveillance, detected a multistate cluster with a fourth PFGE pattern combination; a sample of cantaloupe collected from the implicated farm yielded L. monocytogenes with this pattern, and interviews with patients revealed that most had consumed cantaloupe. Isolates with this pattern were then also considered to be among the outbreak strains.

This outbreak has several unusual features. First, this is the first listeriosis outbreak associated with melon. Second, four widely differing PFGE pattern combinations and two serotypes (1/2a and 1/2b) have been associated with the outbreak. Third, this outbreak is unusually large; only two U.S. listeriosis outbreaks, one associated with frankfurters (108 cases) and one with Mexican-style cheese (142), have had more cases. Additional cases likely will be reported because of the long incubation period (usually 1–3 weeks, range: 3–70 days) and the time needed for diagnosis and confirmation. Fourth, this outbreak has the highest number of deaths of any U.S. foodborne outbreak since a listeriosis outbreak in 1998.

Playing politics with listeria in Canada

“In October, 1996, 16-month-old Anna Gimmestad of Denver drank Smoothie juice manufactured by Odwalla Inc. of Half Moon Bay, Calif. She died several weeks later; 64 others became ill in several western U.S. states and British Columbia after drinking the same juices, which contained unpasteurized apple cider –and E. coli O157:H7. Investigators believe that some of the apples used to make the cider may have been insufficiently washed after falling to the ground and coming into contact with deer feces.

“The Odwalla outbreak, and dozens of others, illustrate some basics about E.  coli O157:H7 that have gotten lost in the rush –especially by some virulent columnists –to describe the Walkerton outbreak through the filters of political preference. E. coli O157:H7 is part of nature, a natural world that will change and adapt as humans alter their version of the world. But for all the railing against so-called factory or industrial farming, the links remain tenuous. In fact, such assumptions and finger-pointing can actually be dangerous as individuals become less vigilant, assuming that such problems only happen to other people in other places.”

That’s what I wrote in Canada’s National Post on June 3, 2000 in the wake of the Walerton, Ontario, E. coli O157:H7 outbreak which would kill seven and sicken 2,500 in a town of 5,000.

The person in charge of the municipal water system for Walkerton was found to add chlorine based on smell and criminally convicted; the farm was a cow-calf operation that was the poster farm for Environmental Farm Plans.

No matter.

The same mind-numbing politics is now dominating the listeria outbreak in Canada which has killed 19 and sickened dozens.

The cause of the outbreak appears to be the accumulation of listeria in meat slicers used at the Maple Leaf plant in Toronto. The feds have advised all registered establishments that manufacture ready-to-eat meat products to step up their cleaning protocols. Bill Marler noted some other examples related to listeria and meat slicers in a post this morning.

No matter.

A letter writer to the Toronto Star this morning says the only people affected by listeria are “those whose immune systems are low because they have been eating a nutritionally poor diet of mostly processed foods … we would all be better off if we bought fresh, unprocessed food from local farms. These foods would keep our immune systems strong so they could easily ward off a few harmful bacteria.

Guess the letter writer has never heard of pregnant women getting listeria (see next post).

On Saturday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper set the terms of reference for an investigation into the listeriosis outbreak:

• Examine the events, circumstances and factors that contributed to the outbreak.

• Review the efficiency and effectiveness of the response by federal agencies in terms of prevention, the recall of contaminated products, and collaboration and communication among partners in the food safety system and the public.

• Make recommendations aimed at enhancing prevention of future outbreaks and the removal of contaminated products from stores and warehouses.

No matter.

The report is due before March 15, 2009.

Harper then called a Canadian election for Oct. 14, 2008.

Bob Kingston, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada’s Agriculture Union, said in a news release,

We already know the problem is too few inspectors . . . in a system that relies too much on the food industry to police itself.”

Apparently the union inspectors have super vision and can see listeria – especially in the depths of slicing machines.

Others are calling for a full-scale inquiry, like what happened after Walkerton and in Ontario after some dodgy meat slaughtering practices were uncovered (the Haines report). I participated in both inquiries. There is no need for another.

The Ministers of Agriculture and Health, or the Prime Minister’s office, need to call up the bureaucrats and say,

"People are pissed. Give me a clear accounting of who knew what when so I can give a clear accounting to the public. I want the report on my desk Monday at 7 a.m. I’ve got an election campaign going on."