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Resource ID: #27201
Over the course of a decade, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had not one, not two, not three, but four opportunities to warn the public about salmonella outbreaks involving Foster Farms chicken. Each time, they hemmed and hawed, worrying more about the threat of legal action from a corporate giant than about protecting consumers. Health reporter Lynne Terry was the first journalist in America to identify and write about this alarming trend. With reporters from Frontline, The Center for Investigative Reporting and the New York Times circling around the story, she beat them all with a stunning and illuminating examination of the failures of the USDA. In her year-long investigation, Terry set out to determine if the USDA's notoriously slow handling of a major salmonella outbreak in 2013-2014 was an isolated case. It wasn't. She reviewed thousands of pages of previously undisclosed documents dating back to 2003. What she found was disturbing: More than 1,000 people had rushed to their doctors with bouts of food poisoning. They had no idea what made them sick. But federal regulators did. Those same federal officials took virtually no steps to protect consumers from bad chicken. Health officials in Oregon and Washington had pushed vigorously for federal action, having identified clear and convincing evidence of problems. But the USDA wouldn't budge. Terry's meticulous reporting identified these themes: •USDA officials are afraid of lawsuits. The agency is so worried about being sued by companies that they've set an almost impossible bar for evidence, even rejecting samples of tainted chicken that state health agencies believed would help clinch their case. •Government inspectors are pressured to go easy on food processors. In one notable case, the USDA transferred an inspector after Foster Farms complained he wrote too many citations. •The USDA succumbed to further pressure from Foster Farms. After strong pushback from the company's lawyers, the agency backed away from citing an unequivocal connection linking the company to a 2004 outbreak - even though the evidence pointed only to Foster Farms.