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Parents of Sickened Children
Ask for Tighter Rules on Food Safety

New york Times
October 17, 2002
Parents of Sickened Children Ask for Tighter Rules on Food
By ELIZABETH BECKER

WASHINGTON, Oct. 16 - The parents tell similar accounts of children who
suddenly fall ill with stomach aches, fever and diarrhea. In days, the
children are in pediatric intensive care units, and doctors are
explaining that the cause is E. coli bacteria, probably from tainted
meat.

For Barbara and Michael Kowalcyk of Madison, Wis., the story ends in the
death of their 2-year-old, Kevin, in August 2001.

"He was begging us for water, for juice," Mrs. Kowalcyk said, "and we
couldn't give it to him, because the doctors said he had to be partially
dehydrated for his treatment. When he died, it was like an invisible
truck ran over me."

Tom Brayton of Parsippany, N.J., watched his 20-month-old, Nicolaus, die
in a matter of days in July 2000.

"The one thing I remember the most is Nicky's screaming nonstop for
three days, and there was nothing I could do," Mr. Brayton recalled.

Elizabeth Tikriti, 11, of Yakima, Wash., survived her illness in 1997 by
gritting her teeth through treatments without painkillers and trying
hard not to fall asleep. "I was afraid I would never wake up," she said.

The families are part of a group here this week to lobby for improved
safety regulations for meat and poultry after the nation's biggest meat
recall. This week, Pilgrim's Pride, recalled 27.4 million pounds of
ready-to-eat chicken and turkey products, fearing that they may carry
Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.

Federal investigators said on Tuesday that the products were likely to
have been a source of a listeria outbreak that killed seven people in
seven Northeastern states.

ConAgra recalled 19 million pounds of ground beef in July, the
third-largest recall. That meat was linked to the illnesses of 19 people
in six Western and Midwestern states.

Every year, foodborne diseases cause an estimated 76 million illnesses,
325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths nationwide, the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention says. A spokesman for the Food and Safety
and Inspection Service of the Agriculture Department, Steven Cohen, said
that although the rates were too high they had been falling.

Pointing to the recent recalls, a group, Safe Tables Our Priority, said
it would write to President Bush on Thursday asking for new rules for
meat and poultry producers. They would include tough civil penalties for
violations and authorizing the Agriculture Department to recall
contaminated food.

"Our children and our families deserve not to encounter terror at the
dinner table," the letter said. "We urge that you declare a war on
foodborne illnesses."

The group asked that the department immediately adopt regulations for
listeria inspections that President Bill Clinton initiated.

The group also supports a bill called Kevin's Law, after Mr. and Mrs.
Kowalcyk's son. Its provisions include authorizing the department to
close meat-processing plants that regularly fail to meet government
food-safety standards.

"These people don't know what it is like to go over minute by minute
what we did the week before Kevin died, not knowing where the meat came
from and why it happened," said Mrs. Kowalcyk, a biostatistician at the
University of Wisconsin.

A priority of the group is to crack down on the cow manure that finds
its way into meat products and becomes a source of E. coli illness.
Tracing tainted meat and poultry early and obtaining the full
cooperation of meatpackers to identify that meat is another goal of the
group. What it does not want, members of the group said, is to be
faulted for their children's deaths.

"The meat companies let cow manure get in the meat, and then they tell
the victims that if we had only cooked it to 160 degrees my child would
not have died," Mrs. Kowalcyk said.

Rosemary Mucklow of the National Meat Association said that the industry
did not need greater regulations but that consumers needed to be
educated.

"The biggest issue is to get the consumer to cook the meat thoroughly,"
Ms. Mucklow said. "People don't like that. They say you're blaming the
consumer. But you wash lettuce and grapes thoroughly."

The industry association, she said, has invested "huge amounts of effort
and money to make the meat safe as it is being slaughtered."

To prevent illnesses from recalled products, the Agriculture Department
advises pregnant women, older adults and people with weakened immune
systems to reheat hot dogs and luncheon meats until steaming hot.

Recall details are available online at fsis.usda.gov or by calling (800) 535-4555.


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