5 years ago
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 .