Yesterday, I said that I don’t talk much about mad cow disease because, though it is a common topic of discussion among organic enthusiasts, I think it’s a minor issue in the broader scheme of things.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s a terrible disease to contract, and is currently incurable. It’s even an irritant for people who haven’t contracted it: because I once lived in the U.K., I was prohibited for a long time from donating blood after I moved back to the U.S. While it may seem that the U.S. was being overly careful, this is not a disease you want to spread. Still, only a few hundred cases have ever been reported. Think of how many more contract the equally serious disease of diabetes: by Centers for Disease Control estimates, one in three Americans will suffer this dread disease by 2050. Mad cow disease simply can’t compare in scope and breadth.
I view food safety in a similar light. 5,000 people died of food-borne illness last year, a mere fraction of the estimated 100,000,000-plus who are projected to have diabetes within 40 years. So I tend to try to focus more on the diet-related illnesses that afflict far greater numbers, including not only diabetes but heart disease, cancer and obesity. This is where our country faces a much larger problem.
But I admit that the food safety issue goes farther than 5,000 annual deaths. (And 5,000 annual deaths in and of themselves certainly justify taking serious action to prevent them.) 75 million people are sickened by food-borne illness each year, and over 300,000 are hospitalized. While I’d rather get run-of-the-mill food poisoning (that is, the non-Salmonella, non-fatal type) than diabetes, I’d prefer not to get either.
So, what can we do?
Well, the Senate may take a major step tonight. For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees the safety of the large majority of food products consumed in the U.S., may be given significant power to test and recall food products it believes may be unsafe. Previously, the FDA could recommend that tainted food products be recalled, but it could not require a recall. This seems silly, and it’s good that we’re on the cusp of ending this practice.
How? Through the Food Safety Modernization Act, which should be coming up for a vote tonight (Monday night). The bill passed in the House a year ago, and following this summer’s egg scare and building national concern over the safety of our food, it appears finally to have the political momentum to clear the Senate.
More details to come when (if) the Act passes. Do you feel safe buying eggs, spinach or peanut butter following recent scares concerning these food items?