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Major Salmonella Outbreak Exacerbated by Government Shutdown

Health + Wellness
Major Salmonella Outbreak Exacerbated by Government Shutdown

By Laura Beans

As the government shutdown reached its eighth day yesterday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed a multi-state salmonella outbreak.

The strain, Salmonella Heidelberg, has been attributed to Foster Farms brand chicken products at three facilities in California. According to the CDC, as of yesterday, a total of 278 individuals infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg have been reported from 17 states—77 percent of which have been reported from California. The number of ill people identified in each additional state is as follows: Alaska (2), Arkansas (1), Arizona (11), California (213), Colorado (4), Connecticut (1), Florida (1), Hawaii (1), Idaho (2), Michigan (2), North Carolina (1), Nevada (8), Oregon (8), Texas (5), Utah (2), Washington (15) and Wisconsin (1).

Chicken sold by Foster Farms has been linked to a national salmonella outbreak. Photo credit: Getty Images

The current salmonella outbreak is exactly what officials and food safety advocates feared when Congress failed to reach an agreement on a spending bill last Monday night and forced the government to shutdown. Complications arose due to amendments added to the budget bill by House Republicans to delay or drastically defund the Affordable Care Act.   

According to National Public Radio, the CDC has called back about 30 furloughed workers, including 10 who work in the foodborne illness division, though they are still scrambling to make due with less than half of their staff. The outbreak is of particular concern given that it involves seven strains of Salmonella that are resistant to antibiotics typically used to treat the illness. 

"The shutdown is the last thing the public health system needs, especially after agencies have already weathered significant spending cuts under the sequester. Overall, CDC was forced to cut $285 million of its fiscal year 2013 budget due to the sequester," said Nancy Donley, founder of STOP Foodborne Illness, in a Cornucopia Institute article. 

The investigation into the outbreak is continuing and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)—which is operating with 87 percent of its staff during the shutdown—are preparing to take additional actions, such as a recall, based on new evidence that is emerging. 

A public health alert warns that the FSIS is unable to link the illnesses to a specific product and a specific production period. Raw products from the facilities in question bear one of the following numbers on the USDA mark of inspection or elsewhere on the package:

  • P6137
  • P6137A
  • P7632

Salmonella outbreaks could become more prevalent with the FSIS attempting to privatize poultry inspections. In September, the Government Accountability Office released a scathing analysis of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) in poultry slaughter, the pilot project the FISIS is using to justify its privatization proposal in some 200 poultry plants across the country.

The proposed “Modernization of Poultry Inspection” rule would remove most FSIS inspectors from the slaughter lines and replace them with untrained company employees, according to Food & Water Watch. It would also permit chicken plants to increase line speeds to 175 birds-per-minute. FSIS has received hundreds of thousands of comments from consumers opposed to this change.

Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD page for more related news on this topic.

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By Elliot Douglas

In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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