Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety

Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety

Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety

Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety

Synopsis

Food safety is a matter of intense public concern, and for good reason. Millions of annual cases of food "poisonings" raise alarm not only about the food served in restaurants and fast-food outlets but also about foods bought in supermarkets. The introduction of genetically modified foods--immediately dubbed "Frankenfoods"--only adds to the general sense of unease. Finally, the events of September 11, 2001, heightened fears by exposing the vulnerability of food and water supplies to attacks by bioterrorists. How concerned should we be about such problems? Who is responsible for preventing them? Who benefits from ignoring them? Who decides?

Marion Nestle, author of the critically acclaimed Food Politics, argues that ensuring safe food involves more than washing hands or cooking food to higher temperatures. It involves politics. When it comes to food safety, billions of dollars are at stake, and industry, government, and consumers collide over issues of values, economics, and political power--and not always in the public interest. Although the debates may appear to be about science, Nestle maintains that they really are about control: Who decides when a food is safe?

She demonstrates how powerful food industries oppose safety regulations, deny accountability, and blame consumers when something goes wrong, and how century-old laws for ensuring food safety no longer protect our food supply. Accessible, informed, and even-handed, Safe Food is for anyone who cares how food is produced and wants to know more about the real issues underlying today's headlines.

Excerpt

Food saftey is a matter of intense public concern, and for good reason. Food “poisonings,” some causing death, raise alarm not only about the food served in restaurants and fast-food outlets but also about the food bought in supermarkets. The introduction in the 1990s of genetically modified foods—immediately dubbed “Frankenfoods”—only added to the general sense of unease. Finally, the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon further heightened such concerns by exposing the vulnerability of food and water supplies to food bioterrorism.

Discussions of food safety in the media and elsewhere tend to focus on scientific aspects: the number of illnesses or deaths, the level of risk, or the probability that a food might cause harm. Such discussions overlook a central fact: food safety is a highly political issue. Preventing foodborne illness involves much more than washing hands or cooking foods to higher temperatures. It involves the interests of huge and powerful industries that use every means at their disposal to maximize income and reduce expenses, whether or not these means are in the interest of public health. Like other businesses, food businesses put the interests of stockholders first. Because food is produced, processed, distributed, sold, and cooked before it is eaten, its safety is a shared responsibility, meaning that blame also can be shared. Any one company in the food chain can deny responsibility and pass accountability along to another. Furthermore, food companies can and do use their considerable financial power to influence government regulations that might affect balance sheets, again whether or not such influence is in the public interest. Although consumer groups . . .

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