A recent Iowa campaign moment was classic Michele Bachmann. Trying to revive her fading presidential prospects, Minnesota's Republican Sixth District congresswoman toured a Des Moines meat plant.
She strolled through the carcass cooler in heeled sandals, then let loose with yet another antigovernment salvo, irresponsibly blasting federal meat-safety requirements as "overkill" and "more regulation than this business has ever had before.''
Bachmann's criticism comes just as the U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced a landmark measure to protect against a potentially deadly foodborne bacteria -- E. coli.
The agency, which branded the bacteria's O157 strain an adulterant in 1994, announced earlier this month that it will soon be illegal to sell raw ground beef contaminated by six additional E. coli strains.
About 113,000 people are sickened annually by E. coli's non-O157 variations.
The bacteria are often found in the digestive systems of cattle, and meat contamination can occur during slaughter. Infections from eating undercooked meat or other contaminated foods can lead to a kidney complication that is fatal in 3 to 5 percent of cases.
Children are particularly at risk.
Bachmann would have learned that firsthand -- in an authenticated account from a grieving mom -- had she made a campaign stop in Monroe, Iowa.
The central Iowa town of 1,800 was the home of 14-year-old Kayla Boner. In 2007, the vivacious, cell-phone loving teen died after she was infected with E. coli O111 -- one of the strains targeted by the USDA.
Kayla became ill with flu-like symptoms and bloody diarrhea just after her Oct. 22 birthday. She never got better.
Her kidneys shut down. She developed heart problems and had to be put on a ventilator. She died on Nov. 2. The infection was never traced to a specific food.
Dana Boner, however, believes that any measure to reduce E. coli O111 and other strains in the food supply is a potential lifesaver.
"Maybe if it had been an adulterant, my daughter would still be here,'' she said.
Two kids in Minnesota have died in the past decade after they were infected with one of these additional E. coli strains.
The move by the USDA is good public-health policy, and it takes advantage of strides made in testing technology. Declaring these strains an adulterant will help prevent contaminated meat from winding up on dinner plates.
Testing by the agency and the industry will become widespread.
That will identify contaminated meat at packing plants. While companies can still use this meat in cooked products (thorough cooking kills E. coli) it will help reduce the risk of consumers getting sick from unsafe food handling or undercooking.
That's an important step forward and a key reason this measure has been widely applauded by leading public health scientists and organizations.
University of Minnesota infectious-disease expert Mike Osterholm says there's no question that the USDA measure is an improvement in food safety, though he rightly says that a much more effective step is needed: irradiation.
As for Bachmann, this is the second time she's displayed startling disregard for public-health safeguards. She recently denounced the HPV vaccine after one unvetted account about a side effect.
Now, food safety equals big-government intrusion? That may fly with ideologues, but it only raises further questions about Bachmann's broader appeal.
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