Special Assignment: Is the FDA failing you?

News 12 at 6 o'clock; April 30, 2009

A government agency that's supposed to protect you could be failing you. News 12 has been investigating the Food and Drug Administration for months, and now we have new information that could prove the FDA is broken.

You have to look inside to see what something's really made of. A North Augusta woman claims she found a nail inside her York Peppermint Pattie. A Martinez woman says she found a light bulb in a gallon of ice-cream. News 12 also found something interesting when we looked inside the government agency that's supposed to keep your food safe. "Something needs to be done," says Pamela Saunders. "Somebody needs to do something."

Pamela started the News 12 investigation in the first place when she says she bit into a York Peppermint Pattie and found a nail in it. That was December 2008. She wanted to warn others, so she brought it to News 12. We told her to call the food and drug administration, and she did, over and over again. So did we.

It took 12 days, but an investigator finally came to her North Augusta home. That made Pamela feel better because "one minute I thought nothing was gonna happen, until you, Miss Meredith, started the ballgame." The agent promised the Saunders the FDA would get to the bottom of it, but now, months later, it looks like they never did. That frustrated Pamela's husband, Jeffery Saunders.

Jeffery Saunders: "You get paid to do a job. Do your job and do it right."
Meredith Anderson: "Paid with your money, your tax dollars."
Jeffery Saunders: "Right."

Here is the answer your tax dollars bought. Is the consumer responsible? No.
Complaint status: Closed.

In documents obtained by News 12, there is no indication the FDA did anything to investigate the company that makes the candy. As soon as agents found the Saunders were not to blame, the documents show the case was closed.

So, are documents missing?
There shouldn't be.

Last month, News 12 walked the Saunders through the process of filing a Freedom of Information Act request. They asked for all "reports, test results, status reports, and final results." The documents only show the FDA investigated the Saunders. Pamela wanted to know "if they thought that we was in the wrong, they could have held us accountable. How come they're not being held accountable?"

News 12 also filed a Freedom of Information Act request of our own. Our entire request was denied. The reason they gave us was that "the results would show personnel or medical files -- that would be an unwarranted invasion of privacy."

We appealed and even had the Saunders come back to News 12 to sign an affidavit, waiving their right to privacy. We asked for the same information as the Saunders. We got what they got, but we also got an additional document. Neither had personnel or medical files, but they both essentially drew the same conclusion. "No further investigative activity will be conducted."

"I don't see how they can sleep at night," says Jeffery Saunders. "I don't see how they can sit there and think everything's ok."

Is this what happened with the peanut butter? Tomatoes? Spinach? Castleburry's Chili? Did people have to die before the agency took the claims seriously? How many people had to get sick before the FDA stopped investigating the consumer and started investigating the company?

Pamela never got hurt.
Is that why her case is closed?

It makes Pamela angry. "You can expose us and investigate us, whatever you want, but what about the manufacturer? Why not take them through the procedures and tell them you are going to arrest them and take them to court? You do it to us the consumer."

Nobody knows that better than Angela Maddox. She says "all I did was I wanted to protect other people. Now it seems I'm on trial."

Angela claims she found a light bulb in her ice cream. She also contacted the FDA, but her experience has been very different from the Saunders. Men with badges showed up at her door.
She's now scared of her food and the folks who are supposed to keep it safe. She thought she was protecting you, but now, she feels like she needs protection. She called the FDA after she claims she found something in her ice cream. She said no one took her seriously until her story aired on News 12.

Angela Maddox never thought she'd get the cold shoulder from the agency that's supposed to keep her food safe. We first introduced you to her last month when she says she found a light bulb in her ice cream.

We told her to call the FDA. It took days to get someone on the phone, and when she did, she did not like what she heard. She says the person on the other end of the line asked her if she was "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."

Still, Angela believed the FDA would do something.
She just never expected this. She was worried when "all of the sudden, there's men with badges at the door because I called about ice cream. Doesn't make any sense to me."

It didn't make any sense to us either. Remember, News 12 was there when an investigator came to the Saunders home. He asked a few questions, took pictures, and left. He also wasn't from the Office of Criminal Investigations, like the men who showed up at Angela's door were.

Angela couldn't believe it because "somebody like me who's never had a traffic ticket is sitting here and they want you to take a polygraph, you know?"

The investigators also wanted us to stay outside. We waited outside while they talked to Angela, and we tried to speak with them when they were walking to their cars.

Meredith Anderson: "But you can't answer any questions?"
Agent: "No m'am, I can't."
Meredith Anderson: "Why weren't we allowed to be in there? We were in there for another investigation."
Agent: "Yes m'am. Have a nice day. Thank you. "
Meredith Anderson: "Why did they send the criminal team?"
Agent: "Please just contact my headquarters m'am. Thank you."

So we did.
A lot.

No one ever called us back, but we did get an email that said the following: "The FDA cannot confirm or deny anything concerning this matter." Then there's the timing of all of this.
The criminal investigators coincidentally show up two days after Angela's story aired on News 12.

Meredith Anderson: "You couldn't get someone on the phone to save your life."
Angela Maddox: "No."
Meredith Anderson: "And then you talk to us, and you've got two men with badges at your door."
Angela Maddox: "Right."

Angela still has a bitter taste in her mouth about all this, as does Pamela and Jeffery Saunders.

In both cases, they wanted to do the right thing. They say they wanted to protect you and your food or maybe expose an accident or problem with a company.

Instead, they showed us a problem with an entire government agency.

Of course, we will stay on top of this and will let you know what happens with both the Saunders and Angela.

Meanwhile, News 12 wants to take this all the way to Washington.
We're in the process of contacting senators and congressmen in both Georgia and South Carolina. Maybe they'll be able to do something.


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