What is not said can be crucial

Nationwide reporting on the Gort’s Gouda situation raises questions about science reporting on health issues in the public media.

Since the situation broke on Sept. 17, nationwide reporting on the Gort’s Gouda situation raises questions about science reporting on health issues in the public media.

Some things get reported. Others do not.

I can find no Canadian Food Inspection Agency estimates of how much raw milk Gort’s Gouda sold between May and September of this year. It is therefore impossible to say what the actual risk rate of infection from eating this cheese is or was.

There has been little discussion of relative hazard from E. coli 0157:H7 infection. In Walkerton, Ontario, in 2000, approximately 2,500 people were infected with E. coli via contaminated water. Seven people died, all of them either very infirm or very young, giving a risk of death from this form of E. coli diarrhea of 0.28 per cent.

This is slightly more than the risk of death from being on the road in a car – 0.24 per cent.

The comparative risk of death from heart disease is 14 per cent. Cancer: 14 per cent. Pneumonia: 3.6 per cent. In 2007, a vaccine said to prevent more than 99 per cent of E. coli 0157:H7 infections in cattle was developed by a Canadian company. I can find no evidence regulators have offered this vaccine to dairy farmers.

Gort’s Gouda is a small, respected family-owned business that employs local citizens and brings income directly into the community; its owners have been complying in every way with CFIA requirements.

In May, 2012, XL foods, a giant meat plant in Alberta using a “super shredder” to process animal carcasses, was responsible for the largest meat recall in Canadian history. Reports at the time confirmed “a weak safety culture” at the plant, and found the company remiss in complying with CFIA requests.

And then there’s Maple Leaf Foods.

Perhaps we have a particular obligation to help local businesses, in concrete ways.

Sometimes what is not said is more important than what is.

 

Warren Bell