By Ben Hewitt
A few folks have asked what I think of S510: The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act that just passed the Senate. The short answer is, “not much.” The slightly longer answer is below.The even longer answer can be found in my forthcoming book, Making Supper Safe, where I explore even another aspect of food safety: The need for bacterial diversity in our food and our bodies.
As S510: Food Safety Modernization Act stumbles toward what it beginning to feel like inevitable passage, with support from progressive food personalities like Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, we would do well to consider the inherently weak assumptions that are propelling it forward.
It is often stated that foodborne illness kills more than 5,000 Americans annually, sends another 325,000 to the hospital, and provides a whopping 76 million of us an unwelcome opportunity to become overly familiar with the view from our toilet. It is less often stated that the 1999 study providing these numbers ends with a line that reads “unknown agents account for approximately 81% of foodborne illnesses and hospitalizations and 64% of deaths.” In other words, a significant majority of assumed illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths are just that: Assumed. The numbers are merely extrapolated from estimates of all deaths by gastroenteritis of unknown cause. Indeed, the extrapolation accounts for 3,400 of the total study estimate of 5,194 deaths annually.
This does not mean there is no foodborne illness; it does not even necessarily mean there is less foodborne illness than previously thought. But it does underline the fragility of the assumptions on which the contemporary view of food safety has been forged. Too, it requires only a cursory examination of the food-related dangers at hand to understand just how narrow this view is.
Consider, for a moment, the shocking rise of diabetes in this country over the past four decades; consider that 300,000 American deaths can be attributed to obesity each and every year, a full 295,000 more than are believed to die from acute foodborne illness annually. Consider that a peer-reviewed study published in the January 26, 2009 edition of Environmental Health Journal showed that nearly half the samples of high fructose corn syrup tested contained mercury.
Read the full post at benhewitt.com