Ann Veneman: Bush Flunkie

"The Bush administration is committed to protecting the public health and improving our food-safety systems," Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman announced on November 24, 2003, before citing several encouraging statistics. The rate of salmonella contamination in raw meat and poultry, she claimed, had fallen 16 percent since 2003 and 66 percent since 1997. The rates for listeria and E. coli 0157:H7 contamination, according to the USDA, had also dropped, by 25 and 60 percent respectively.

Enter University of Wisconsin biostatistician Barbara Kowalcyk, began studying USDA figures after her two-and-a-half-year-old son was killed by E. coli 0157:H7 contamination. Since 1997, Kowalcyk found, the USDA had been sampling meat from different (often tiny) plants each year, making year-on-year comparisons impossible. Worse still, the USDA compared listeria figures from all of 2002 with those from just nine months in 2003, explaining the supposed 25 percent drop. "This is bad science," Kowalcyk said, "and if you made these mistakes in my Statistics 101 class, I'd flunk you."

[Among the USDA's first actions under Bush? Halting salmonella testing of ground beef purchased for the national school lunch program. Between 2000 and 2004, agribusiness firms donated more than $140 million to presidential and Congressional cnadidates, three-quarters of it to Republicans.]

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