Special Assignment: Investigating the FDA

News 12 at 6 o'clock, March 23, 2009

MARTINEZ, Ga.---A Martinez woman expected a crunch in her ice cream, but she says she never expected the source of that crunch to be a light bulb. She called News 12 to see what she should do, only to learn the agency she needs to tell doesn't seem to want to help.

Now even President Barack Obama believes the agency has some serious issues.

Angela Maddox never thought something in her freezer would help shed light on a problem with the government. At first she thought it was ice.

"So I bit it again, and I found this...this red light bulb in it."

Angela wasn't hurt, but she couldn't stop thinking about it.

"Um, this isn't right," she said. "And then we needed to call and see what we needed to do."

She didn't know where to turn, so she called News 12.

We told her to call the Food and Drug Administration--and she did, a lot. But she says nobody ever called her back.

Finally she got someone on the other end of the line.

Angela says they asked, "'Were you injured?' And I said no. And they acted like, 'Well, what do you want me to do about it?' When they are supposed to be in control of taking care of our food items."

For days, she says the FDA ignored her. But the agency has been ignoring another local family for months.

Remember Jeffrey and Pamela Saunders? They came to News 12 for help in December after they claim they found a nail in a York Peppermint Patty.

"If it wasn't for channel 12, we wouldn't have this information right here," Pamela said.

News 12 was there as an investigator even came to their home...but that's the last they ever heard about their claim. The FDA refuses to tell them--or News 12 for that matter--anything.

So that leads to this question: Did investigators ignore the recent peanut butter problem before they issued a recall? In the end, more than 480 people got sick. Six died. Could lives have been saved if the FDA had acted faster after the botulism outbreak and Castleberry's?

What about the spinach recall? Tainted spinach killed three people and made almost 200 others sick.

The list goes on.

Now President Obama is speaking out against the agency even he believes is broken.

"That is a hazard to public health," President Obama said. "It is unacceptable."

"The FDA has been underfunded and understaffed in recent years, leaving the agency with the resources to inspect just 7,000 of our 150,000 food processing plants and warehouses each year. That means roughly 95% of them go uninspected."

That's something the president hopes to change with new leadership. Just this month he appointed Dr. Margaret Hamburg to tighten the reins and change a feeling he thinks too many of us have.

"Oh my goodness," Angela said. "You know, I mean, you're not safe buying anything anymore."

Angela has lost her appetite for ice cream, and that's not all.

"This affects me. It affects my children. It affects everybody because we need to be really careful with our food," she said.

The ice cream in question was Edy's Tagalong. News 12 called the company, and a spokesperson says they want Angela to mail in the light bulb so they can investigate it.

In the meantime, Angela has filed a claim with the FDA and hopes an agent will come investigate. She says she still hasn't heard anything from the FDA.

As for the Saunders family, they are taking it one step further, and we're helping them get answers. You won't believe how thick the red tape is. Watch for that story tonight at 11.

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