An outbreak of listeria, a disease tied to tainted cantaloupe, has sickened 72 people and killed at least 16 others, making it the country’s deadliest food outbreak in more than a decade. The disease has killed people in eight states from Maryland to New Mexico after the tainted melons were shipped from a farm in Colorado. As many as 25 states received the shipment of bad cantaloupes, which have now been recalled, according to the Associated Press.
The outbreak follows recalls of other tainted food products, including the third largest food recall in American history, when Cargill was forced to recall 36 million pounds of turkey due to a salmonella outbreak that killed one and sickened 80 others.
Even as these outbreaks occur, however, the Republican Party is continuing its efforts to gut food safety laws aimed at protecting Americans from these types of food-borne illnesses. In June, House Republicans attempted to kill the first significant upgrade in the nation’s food safety laws in more than 70 years, saying the private food industry sufficiently self-policed itself. Last week, presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) called for an end to food safety laws that she claimed were stifling job creation:
“That’s part of the problem, the overkill,” Bachmann told reporters during an appearance in which she posed with huge slabs of beef. “And when they make it complicated, they make it expensive and so then you can no longer stay in business.”
As Pat Garofalo has noted, one in six Americans is sickened by food-borne illness each year, and more than 3,000 die. And while the GOP cites the cost of new regulations, the annual cost of food illnesses is $152 billion, according to Georgetown University’s Produce Safety Project, and the cost of not overhauling outdated food safety laws far exceeds the cost of implementing the new policies the GOP opposes. House Republicans, however, refuse to approve the funding necessary to put those policies in place, all but ensuring that deadly and costly food outbreaks will continue to occur all too frequently.